Campaign for Whitby village green suffers legal blow

Campaigners on the green at Helredale, Whitby
Campaigners on the green at Helredale, Whitby
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A LANDMARK decision by the Supreme Court to allow housing to be built on playing fields in Whitby has implications for others fighting for village greens, campaigners have warned.

The fight to save Helredale playing fields from development by registering them as a village green began seven years ago, and last month was taken to the Supreme Court

Helredale Neighbourhood Council (HNC) applied to register the four-acre site on the grounds that it had been used for informal recreation by local people “as of right” – without being challenged and without permission – essential criteria for registering land as a green. Registration would protect the land, which is owned by Scarborough Borough Council, from development.

The application had already been rejected by North Yorkshire County Council and the Court of Appeal, and ended up in the Supreme Court last month.

It has now unanimously ruled against the campaigners, saying that the land was used “by right” rather than “as of right”.

The court also decided that an earlier House of Lords judgment, known as Beresford, should no longer be relied upon, and therefore Helredale case would, in future, be able to be used as case law, which campaigners say will adversely affect the fight for village greens across the country.

The Open Spaces Society, which supported HNC, said it was “disturbed” by the ruling. The case follows a Court of Appeal judgment on Monday which found against a green in Hampshire. Open Spaces Society case officer Nicola Hodgson said: “This is a blow for village greens. The Government has already outlawed registration of land which is threatened with development in its Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013. Now the courts are severely narrowing the opportunities for registration. All this is happening when our green spaces have never been more important for public enjoyment, and never more threatened.”

Viv Wright, secretary of HCN, said the group would continue to fight the 105-house affordable housing development, which is being built by Yorkshire Coast Homes (YCH).

She said: “It has been a playing field since the houses were first built in the early 1950s. There are very few green spaces left in Whitby. We are going to be surrounded by housing, back garden to back garden, whereas for 60-odd years residents have enjoyed access to a playing field. This is a landmark decision. We have exhausted all avenues as to making the land a village green, but we will continue to fight.”

YCH is hoping to begin work on development soon, with a view to completion before March 2018.

Chief executive Shaun Tymon said the development would fill a shortfall for affordable housing. He said: “Upwards of 26 people were bidding for each of the 145 Yorkshire Coast Homes properties that became available over the last 12 months.