Inquiry opens into registering College Fields amenity land as a village green
The Public Inquiry called by Wiltshire Council into the application by local residents to register amenity land at College Fields as a village green opened on Tuesday at the Town Hall.
The Inspector, William Webster, opened proceedings at 10.30 and adjourned for the day just before noon - by which time a presentation had shown that the land had been used by residents for recreation for more than 20 years - and use over a 20 year time span is one of the main criteria for registering land as village green.
The application is opposed by Wiltshire Council, who own the land, and by Marlborough College who want the land to give them access to fields north of College Green/Barton Park where they plan to build a large housing development. Once it is registered as a village green, the land could not be sold to or touched by developers.
The Inquiry's process is that after these hearings, the Inspector writes a report and submits it to Wiltshire Council's Eastern Planning Committee which makes the decision.
Leading for the residents - known at the Inquiry as 'the applicants' - were Ian Mellor (a planning consultant), his wife Tina, Peter May and Paul Rogers - all residents. And there were 45 more residents in the audience.
Wiltshire Council is represented by barrister Jeremy Pike, and the College by Douglas Edwards QC.
The Inspector explained that when he visited the land that morning he had seen "...five to ten dog walkers - and a larger number of dogs." He saw evidence that the area was well used: "That's my own impression for a short period in pretty miserable weather."
He made the point that the "planning potential of the land is neither here nor there." The issue is "...whether or not there is essential qualifying criteria which justifies registering this land as a village green."
The only evidence heard during the morning was from the applicants' Peter May who explained - with slides - his analysis of the questionnaire sent to 365 houses in February 2017. 186 responses were returned from 179 households.
Mr May explained that 77 people had lived in the neighbourhood for twenty or more years. With the vital twenty-year limit in mind, he said that at least 70 households had used the land continuously since 1995: "It is reasonable to conclude that the land has been known about and used by a significant number of people for at least 20nyears."
None of the respondents had ever asked permission to use the land, never been given permission and none had been stopped from using the land - making it quite clear that it was treated as amenity land. Mr Webster said Mr May had made his points "very adequately".
There was then a great deal of to and fro as to whether the 48 residents who had submitted statements (many of whom were in the audience) needed to give evidence and be cross examined. And whether the Council and College's three witnesses should be called - so they could be cross examined.
Apart from the evidence they had heard, Mr Webster thought the case rested on documents and some "...quite difficult legal points that arise from the documents." He did not want Mr Mellor to ask questions of the two Wiltshire Council witnesses that were not relevant and would not help him write his report.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, the two barristers for those who object to registering the land as a village green - Wiltshire Council and the College - will give their side of the case. And we may hear evidence from the two Wiltshire Council witnesses - Mark Hunnybun and Trevor Slack. The College will not be calling their witness - a town planning expert.
The Inspector told the Inquiry that they would be looking at two basic issues: first, for what purpose was the land acquired by Kennet Council in 1993. Secondly did that acquisition carry with it an entitlement for the public to use it for recreation.
We may get down to such details as to which Council department's budget paid for the grass cutting contract for this land.