Villagers win 10-year battle to ensure protection for rural life

VILLAGERS who have worked for almost a decade to have their distinctive rural community protected under conservation area law spoke of their delight yesterday after the battle was won.

Ulley is only six miles from Rotherham town centre and 10 miles from the centre of Sheffield, but it lies in rolling agricultural land and is still home to three working farms.

Efforts to win protection for the village began around eight years ago when the parish council conducted a survey of its 150 residents in a bid to draw up a “village plan” for the future.

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The council’s current chairman Peter Hubbard, who has lived in Ulley for 10 years, said: “One of the questions asked whether people would support making the village a conservation area.

“We got an overwhelming majority who said they would with many people adding that they valued the small, rural nature of Ulley, its community spirit and its independent farms.”

Coun Hubbard said the villagers then pushed their local planning authority Rotherham Council, to grant the status, but nothing happened and it had taken a “lot of pushing since then”.

Ulley is a traditional stone-built village and its focal points are Holy Trinity church, which was built in 1851, its village hall, which was once the village school and its pub, The Royal Oak.

The village stands above the Ulley Reservoir, which was originally built to provide water for Rotherham but is now at the centre of a country park owned by Rotherham Council.

The park was the focus of national attention during the floods of summer 2007 when the reservoir dam was found to be failing putting the nearby M1 at risk of serious flooding.

Conservation area status has come too late to prevent planning permission being granted for the Penny Hill wind farm, which will see six huge turbines built just 500m from the village.

A huge opposition campaign was mounted against the scheme, but it was given approval by Rotherham Council in 2010 and work on putting up the turbines is expected to begin in weeks.

Coun Hubbard said: “It would have been interesting to see what the effect of conservation area status would have been on that. What we have now is some degree of protection for the future.

“What really galvanised our efforts was when a house in the centre of the village was left empty by its owner and then fell into disrepair and had to be demolished.

“That really brought home the risk of what could have been built in its place.

“Luckily the new owner built a house which fits with the village and has done a good job, but it could have been different.

“What conservation area status gives us is that extra element of protection and we are very happy that it has been agreed.”

Coun Hubbard said that he and his wife had lived in Rotherham since 1980 and had been attracted to the village because of his rural nature and its community, which “pulled above its weight”.

He added: “My wife comes from a farming background and before we lived in Rotherham I had lived in a village and that is what attracted us to come and live here 10 years ago.

“It’s also the fact that there is a strong community spirit. We won an award for the refurbishment of our village hall, and we still have residents living in the village who remember it being a school and some who were pupils there.

The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book and it is thought that a Roman road once passed through the settlement, which is home to just 70 houses.

Local historians believe the village was first founded in the time of the monks of Worksop Priory, passing into the ownership of several wealthy families following the dissolution of the monasteries.

Coun Gerald Smith, Rotherham Council’s spokesman for regeneration and development, said he had agreed Ulley should be protected special characteristics as well as its historic, archaeological and architectural features.

He said the designation had been supported by Ulley Parish Council, and was the subject of consultation with residents and added the village’s unique character would be protected in future.

He added: “Ulley is special. It is very much a working village but is also one of Rotherham’s idyllic settlements, lying in an area of High Landscape Value.

“By becoming a Conservation Area the character of Ulley will be retained and protected as any future development will have to enhance and not detract from its current appeal.”