Race against time in battle for village green

John and Joan Giles
John and Joan Giles
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Well-worn paths run round the field and across what used to be the golf course.

Over the sound of traffic birds can be heard calling from the tops of the highest trees in the densely-wooded border to the east, as dogwalkers step out on their daily round.

But looking over the dual carriageway leading to the Humber Bridge, it is all clear to see what the fate of this stretch of open countryside, which once formed part of Hessle Golf Course, could be.

On the other side can be seen one of the first buildings on phase one of the new Bridgehead business park, a headquarters for local builders Beal Homes.

This unspoilt haven, home to over 300 species of wildlife, according to campaigners, including great crested newts, bats, owls and deer - or “overgrown site” according to the owners - could end up as phase two.

The only thing standing in its way - the site was given detailed planning consent in 2011 - is the determined efforts of a band of residents who are trying to get it declared as a village green.

If they succeed it may be the last site in the country with planning permission to be effectively protected from development as the Government changed the rules earlier this year.

John Giles, who has led the campaign along with wife Joan, have walked the land for four decades. They’d been told nothing would happen in their lifetime and so were galvanised into action when they saw the buildings go up in phase one.

They faced a race against time to submit their case in March.

A whip-round produced enough funds to pay a barrister who dropped his fee “he felt so strongly about the case” says John - and earlier this month a public inquiry was held. The inspector is due to visit the site in January, before issuing a decision in February.

Mr Giles said around 200 people used the land every week: “Since anybody can remember this has always been used by local people for quiet recreation, walking, picnicking, teaching children to ride bikes and it is an area of outstanding beauty. The only way we can preserve it is to register it as a town or village green.

“There’s animosity to what we are doing - obviously there is a lot of money involved - but equally there is a moral side of things.

“They were taking something away from the community which could never be returned to the community.

“They talk about it creating 3,000 jobs but any jobs that do materialise we feel could be accommodated on brownfield sites - there are lots of them round here. It’s a pity local opinion wasn’t listened to at an earlier stage.”

The land is two-thirds in the ownership of the Humber Bridge Board, who bought it back in the 1970s when they were developing the bridge, with a third in the ownership of Hessle Golf Club.

Both the board and the club have fought the application claiming not enough residents use the land and that those who have were trespassing.

East Riding Council has also resisted the granting of village green status.

Darryl Stephenson, clerk to the Humber Bridge Board, said the land had been intended for various development over the last 25 years.

The latest scheme represented a chance to build a high-quality business park attracting new jobs to the area, with the income going on a new visitors centre in the Humber Bridge Country Park across the road.

Mr Stephenson, who said the case had cost the bridge board and golf club around £60,000, said: “The objectors have the whole of the Country Bridge Park to exercise their dogs.”

Developers Bridgeland Ltd said councillors and planners had looked long and hard at their proposals before granting permission.

A statement added: “While we are sympathetic towards these communities and groups keen to safeguard their historic village greens, we feel this is nothing more than an attempt to stop a commercial project that will being significant opportunities for growth and prosperity to local people and local businesses.”

East Riding councillor Phil Davison, who sits on the liaison committee with the developers, said: “I don’t think anyone wants a business park on there - but that argument was lost 10 years ago.”