Community’s bid to designate land as a ‘village green’ looks set to fail

An application to designate a plot of land as a new ‘village green’ has been recommended for refusal.

The application was for an area of land known as the ‘field’ or ‘canalside’ near Hall Lane, Ascot Road and Newbury Road in Little Lever, Bolton.

Around 100 residents of the Racecourse estate in Little Lever applied to register the land as a new town or village green which would give the area greater protection and rights of access.

The application was made under section 15 of the Commons Act 2006 which enables anyone to apply to register land as a village green where it can be shown that ‘a significant number of inhabitants of any locality or neighbourhood have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years’.

As a result of the application a two-day public inquiry was held in Bolton last month.

The issue centered on whether the land had been used for sports or other recreational pastimes over a 20 year period

The application was supported by 100 local residents who filled in forms to detail their use of the site over a period in excess of 20 years.

Three witnesses gave evidence at the Inquiry in support of the application.

The application site is owned by Robert Graham Trustees Limited who objected to the application on the basis that the requirements for registration had not been satisfied.

Their legal representative argued the applicants failed to identify a qualifying area or establish use of the land for lawful recreational purposes over the
relevant 20 year period.

They claimed any use of the site had been ‘by right’ and not ‘as of right’.

The inquiry report, written Mr Martin Carter who oversaw the hearing, said there are a number of well-worn paths on the site and a bench has been placed on land just outside the application site, next to the nearby canal

He said: “On my site visit, which obviously took place after the application was made, I saw that the paths were well worn and appeared well used.

“There were many foot and paw prints observable in the muddy conditions when I visited.

“During my approximately 45 minute visit I saw one man walking a dog along the paths.

“I bear in mind that it was a cold, dull, wet January day when I visited.”

Mr Carter said the presence of signs was a critical issue in determining this application.

He said that close to the entrance from Newbury Road, there is a sign which reads: “Private land, no public rights of way. Persons may use at their own risk –
permissive footpaths only.”

Mr Carter said although he heard evidence of community bonfires and model aircraft flying on the land from witnesses ‘many of the recreational activities
they referred to only occurred prior to the year 2000’.

He said: “I find that the community bonfires and model aircraft flying occurred before the 20 year period began.

“I find that the use of the site away from the paths was very much incidental to the use of the paths themselves and that it was insufficient to cause a reasonable observant landowner to conclude that recreational rights were being asserted across the site by local people.

“The application should fail on this basis.”

Bolton Council’s licensing and environmental regulation committee will meet on March 9 to consider the inquiry report and decide on the application for village green status.

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