Leeds primary school land row will go to a public inquiry

A long running land row over a Leeds primary school's playing fields - which has split the local community - is to be the subject of a public inquiry.

It’s the latest dramatic twist in the saga of the playing fields at Gledhow Primary School in Roundhay, which agreed to take on more pupils to help tackle a ‘black hole’ in places in the city, but then found itself embroiled in a battle with local campaigners. Objectors don’t want the school to expand into the field - and want to preserve the land for community use instead.

The campaigners’ bid to get the school fields listed as a village green to prevent development is now set to be the subject of a public inquiry as Leeds City Council fears it will open itself up to potentially expensive legal challenges if it doesn’t take this route.

A meeting of plans chiefs heard that the council is in a difficult position, and “it’s quite clear the council has a conflict of interests” as both landowner, local education authority and Commons Registration Authority.

“Case law says we cannot have a position for or against the village green,” councillors were told by their lawyers. “The next administrative step is to appoint an inspector who will be well versed in village green applications.”

Both the governing body of Gledhow Primary School and Leeds council have already objected to the village green application, and there have been 350 individual objectors. However 42 statements supporting the application have also been lodged with the authorities.

As previously reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post, parents who oppose the village green application are concerned because the school has already agreed to take on an extra class of pupils every year and had planned to expand onto the field.

The controversy began when the school fenced off the field last year ahead of the planned expansion. It agreed to become a three-form entry primary to help meet demand for places.

However the Friends of Gledhow Field group objected to it being fenced off and submitted a bid for the land to be classed as a village green so it remains open for the community.

They argue that the land has been used by a “significant number” of families from the local community for recreational activities for more than 20 years - the statutory time limit for applying for village green status.

The council is normally the registration authority which decides on a village green application.

Although land ownership alone is irrelevant to the question of potential registration of a site as a town or village green, the council’s other interests in the land make an already complex issue even more contentious.

A legal advice report to Leeds City Council says: “In view of the fact that the application sites are in council ownership and the legal complexities involved, it would be prudent for a non-statutory public hearing, chaired by an independent inspector to be held in the interests of transparency and impartiality.”