HUDDERSFIELD MP Barry Sheerman, has demanded that the Government clarify its policy on village greens following concerns that a new bill could make them more vulnerable.
The issue is a particularly sensitive one in Kirklees given the landmark legal battle currently ensuing between the would-be developers of the Edgerton and Birkby beauty spot Clayton Fields and its protectors.
A pressure group, The Open Spaces Society, fears clause 13 of The Growth and Infrastructure Bill will make it: “more difficult, if not downright impossible to register land in England as a town or village green once it has been identified for development” which has been a major issue in the Clayton Fields saga.
The society’s general secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “The Government wants to stop ‘vexatious’ applications to register greens which it claims are being submitted solely to thwart development.
“In fact few applications are purely vexatious and the clause has the effect of killing genuine applications too.”
The group called on MPs who had such greens in their constituency to speak against this clause which is at the committee stage.
Mr Sheerman recently put the following question to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: “Will the Secretary of State reassure my constituents, many of whom have fought hard for traditional community and village greens?
“He will know that some of the developers are absolutely ruthless.
“In Huddersfield, a company called Paddico has bought up bankrupt stock and then spent enormous amounts of money trying to reverse a High Court decision about a village green.
“He knows how ruthless some of the developers are, so will he say whether our traditional village greens will be more vulnerable as a result of this bill?”
Mr Pickles replied: “The national planning policy framework actually strengthens green spaces.”
Mike Hardy, one of the key campaigners in the David and Goliath battle to preserve the beauty spot, said: “This is certainly a matter of concern to us. The Government seems to be leaning very heavily towards builders at the moment, hoping almost literally that they will help dig us out of recession.
“They say they want to stop vexatious applications but as I understand it the number of such applications is tiny so it seems to be taking a rather large sledgehammer to a very small nut.”
Paddico lost a lengthy legal battle at the High Court in March, to allow it to build houses at Clayton Fields – and its village green status was at the heart of the issue and the victory.
As for the continuing legal campaign he said their latest information was that the case will be heard in the Supreme Court towards the far end of next year.
“That means we have an anxious year ahead of us,” he said. “I understand that it will be a landmark case with loads of developers waiting in the wings.
“Our case is tied in with a very similar one in Weymouth, Dorset.
“The developers are only being allowed to appeal on very narrow grounds so we will have to see what happens.”
Paddico (267) Ltd is fighting a legal battle to build houses at Clayton Fields and has erected fences on the site to prevent walkers accessing it.