Counting the cost of battle of the ‘village green’

From: James EG Haigh, Director, Geo H Haigh & Co Ltd, Dalton, Huddersfield.

HAVING read your article concerning Clayton Fields in Huddersfield, and also your Editorial on the matter (Yorkshire Post, February 8), I feel bound to comment from the land owner’s position.

Clayton Fields was in my family’s ownership from 1955 until it was sold to Paddico in 2005. My company, Geo. H Haigh & Co Ltd, a local house builder, bought the land and finally obtained full planning permission in 1967 to develop it.

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Work started immediately and the land was then “banked” for future development, in line with planning law.

The land was zoned for housing development, and still is.

We, as owners, allowed people to walk their dogs on it as well as sledge on it in the winters, but had that generosity thrown back in our faces when Mr McGee and his fellow residents applied for village green status. On April 14, 1997, following a public meeting on an application to register the land as a village green, a committee of local councillors with no legal qualifications took it upon themselves after a 20 minute discussion to so register it. The matter was then taken to the High Court.

As a small family business, and having taken legal advice that we did not have more than a 50 per cent chance of winning, we sold the land on, but maintained a financial interest in it. The case was won but of course, the Action Group somehow became eligible for legal aid to take the matter further and it eventually ended up in the Supreme Court which upheld the original judgement.

Between us and Paddico, this has cost over £700k so how much has it also cost the taxpayer? Mr McGee mentions £11,000. I think not! So when the Yorkshire Post talks about power resting with elected councillors to make decisions such as these, they should be made within the law. That is what democracy is built on.