‘People Power’ protects flower meadow

Posted: 22nd May 2015

FieldIn an example of the kind of ‘people power’ encouraged by the Localism Act 2011, campaigners who are desperate to save an 'enchanting' flower meadow from the prospect of large-scale housing development have scored an important victory.

Although the 4.83-hectare field was in the Green Belt, the developer which owned it viewed it as a potential site for new housing. A local residents' association, however, saw it as a priceless local asset, with its rich diversity of flora and fauna providing 'an inspiration and a joy' for all.

At the association’s behest, the local authority registered the field as an 'asset of community value' under the Act. The registration, set to last five years, meant that the developer could not sell the field without first notifying the council. Any sale could also be held up for six months to give local community groups an opportunity to make alternative proposals for the site.

The developer swiftly responded to the registration by fencing off two footpaths which crossed the field and putting up 'private property' notices. It also challenged the registration before the First-tier Tribunal (FTT). It argued that members of the public who had enjoyed the field in the past had no right to be there and that the council’s decision in effect gave 'carte blanche' to trespassers.

However, in dismissing the developer’s challenge, the FTT noted that local nature lovers were far removed from illegal rave organisers or those intent on causing criminal damage. The site had a history of 'long, peaceable and socially beneficial use' by residents, even though that was ‘formally unauthorised’.

Previous owners had not complained about public use of the field and, even though it had been fenced off, it was possible that residents might be permitted to walk there again. The FTT noted that the developer might well conclude that its relations with the local community would be best served by restoring the status quo or by entering into some form of licence arrangement with the association.