Inspectorate to consider whether Berkhamsted ‘village green’ plan should pretect open space

Alan O'Neill
Alan O'Neill

The Planning Inspectorate will consider whether a school playing field should be registered as a village green to save it from development.

The playing fields at Egerton Rothersay School were originally part of plans by Taylor Wimpey for 180 new homes off Durrants Lane, Berkhamsted.

The firm had agreed with the school that it would fund a new and ‘greatly improved’ playing field nearby, in return for being allowed to build on the land.

But Save Your Berkhamsted Residents Association (SYBRA) says the people who live next door have used the area to walk dogs, picnic and play football for more than 20 years.

Secretary Alan O’Neill says the playing field was only closed to the public as Taylor Wimpey’s proposals took shape in the summer of 2010.

SYBRA tried to register the site as a village green to protect it – and the Planning Inspectorate heard its arguments during an inquiry last week.

The group had statements from 39 people who live nearby to back its case – three of whom gave evidence in person.

Herts County Council, which owns the land, opposed the application – as did Dacorum Borough Council, which has planning targets for homes-building to meet.

The county council says it is taking ‘reasonable steps to defend its asset’, so that the land can ‘contribute to the much-needed supply of additional housing for the area’.

Dacorum Borough Council issued its account of the hearing nearly a week after it had happened.

A spokesman said: “Two days were programmed for the inquiry to consider the village green application on March 25 and March 26 at the Berkhamsted Civic Centre, although in reality the process only lasted the one day.

“As Herts County Council was both the registration authority and an objector to the application, the case was referred by the county council to the Planning Inspectorate for determination.

“Following this referral, the Planning Inspectorate arranged for a public inquiry to be held by an independent Planning Inspector (Peter Millman) who had to consider the evidence for and against the application.

“Mr Millman had to be satisfied that all the criteria of section 15(3) of the Commons Act 2006 had been met in the application.

“The inquiry was not intended to deal with any wider associated proposals for development of the land.

“The borough council’s view is that the application for the registration of the sports field as a town or village green did not meet the criteria set out in the Commons Act 2006.

“On the day, three local witnesses appeared for the applicant and were cross examined by both legal representatives acting for the borough council and county council – respectively Mr Webster and Mr Edwards.

“The applicant did not wish to cross examine any of the county council’s witnesses, while the borough council had not intended to call any witnesses.

“After listening to the arguments, the inspector undertook a site inspection with representatives from the applicant and the objectors.

“It will be the planning inspector who will make the final decision on the village green application based on all the evidence put before him.

“The borough council anticipates receiving the decision of the Inspector in approximately six weeks time.

“The borough council is duty bound to defend decisions that have been made through democratic processes: in this case to defend its position in relation to an application for a VGA that could prevent a valid development proposal coming forward.

“It must support its position as best it can in what is often a specialist and technical area of law.

“In coming to a decision, the inspector at the inquiry is concerned with the quality of evidence put to him and that this evidence can be tested and supported.

“The inspector is sensitive to and will guide members of the public through this process, but the onus is on the applicant to ensure that they have followed due process and that their evidence is as robust as possible.

“They were given the opportunity to make their case at the inquiry.

“If the application were to be successful it would have implications for the way the development comes forward and could impact on a range of key benefits for the town underpinning the proposal e.g. delivery of family homes, the level of affordable homes, the extent of additional leisure space, etc.

“The borough council often has to make difficult decisions that involve local concerns against the wider benefits accruing from development.”