|Westfield Playing Fields
As many of you know I live in Harpenden, a town north of St Albans. Or south of Luton depending which way you're facing. As you also know, just before Christmas, I acted as community lay advocate on a Public Inquiry in Harpenden to decide whether our local playing field could be registered as a Town/Village Green, thus preserving it as an unspoiled green space for future generations to enjoy. In preparation for this, Harpenden residents contributed witness statements, documents, filled in evidence questionnaires and allowed me to take pictures of them enjoying the field 'for lawful sports and pastimes'.
However instead of supporting us, Harpenden Town Council chose to spend a great deal of our tax payer money hiring a barrister to fight us. This is because the town council had recently signed off on a deal with the district council, who owned the land, to return it. The deal was sold to us as getting the land back to use as 'amenity space' for local residents. The actual deal was that a piece of disused allotment land next door was to be turned into a high-density housing estate, with the main access road running right across our landlocked and child-safe field. Also embedded in the deal was a clause giving them future permission to sell off portions of the field.
|Roman Snail. Rare and very protected.
An official complaint about the actions of the town clerk was submitted by me to the Monitoring Officer, along with additional material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that clearly showed he knew all about the wildlife issues, and had indeed been advised by Natural England, the UK government's adviser on the natural environment, NOT to proceed with any development upon the land. In any other business or organisation, my complaint should have resulted in disciplinary action. Instead, a large bucket of whitewash was produced, wagons were circled and nothing whatsoever was done.
When the report from the Inspector on the Town Green Public Inquiry finally arrived, it recommended either refusal, or the possibility of awaiting the outcome of a similar case to ours which had been also refused, but was undergoing an appeal in the Supreme Court (''The Barkas Case''). The Rights of Way Unit at Hertfordshire County Council decided, wisely in my opinion, to go with the latter option, given the very strong feeling in the local community.
However, the Harpenden mayor, on behalf of her colleagues but not on behalf of the residents she and they were elected to serve, has now launched an objection to this. More of our money has been spent getting their barrister to prepare a further report saying the Town Green decision must be decided before the outcome of the appeal, and on the law as it stands. They know that, should the Barkas decision be overturned (as happened recently on another controversial case), we cannot appeal retrospectively.
Words like unbelievable barely come near describing Harpenden Town Council's actions. The Barkas Case appeal will be heard sometime later this year, and the final judgement handed down in 2014. Is it not beyond the realms of decency and respect for the local community to await the outcome? Especially as the council acquired the land, so they say, to use as 'an amenity space' in the first place?
Apparently not. Hertfordshire County Council are the ultimate arbiters of our Town Green application. As a further incentive to them to play ball, the threat of legal action has been made by Harpenden Town Council's obnoxious barrister. Given the massive cost of any such litigation, the outcome of the final decision can hardly be in doubt. The meeting will take place at County Hall in July. I shall be allowed 5 minutes to speak.
How low can they go? It is not enough that Harpenden Town Council has behaved with callous arrogance towards local people, riding roughshod over us and refusing to consult, listen or work with us. It has parted with thousands of pounds of our money to stop us saving an urban green space which it keeps saying it got back for exactly the same purpose. It has allegedly skewed a planning application for its own ends. Now we are faced with the ludicrous situation of a Tory council threatening to sue another Tory council, at taxpayers' expense, for suggesting a course of action that favours its own residents.
Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.
Since writing this post, I have learned that as a result of the upcoming Barkas appeal, a number of Inspectors are now reserving their recommendations, and a number of judicial reviews have been stayed pending the outcome. This makes the actions of Harpenden Town Council even more iniquitous and unfair, and looks even more suspicious to the outside onlooker.
Related post: Localism, Harpenden Style http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/localism-harpenden-style.html