Pit Hill owners celebrate as Council rejects attempt to have site designated village green

Monday 15th October 2012

Four landowners are celebrating after Leeds City Council rejected an attempt to stop homes being built on a 33-acre site in Churwell.

An application by local campaigners Churwell Action Group to have Pit Hill designated a village green has been rejected by the authority. Owners Terry and Jean Wooding and Harry and Margaret Gaythorpe have aspirations to develop the site in the future but had the group’s application succeeded, development of Pit Hill for purposes including housing would have been prevented.

The council’s verdict rubber-stamped the view of inspector Ruth Stockley, after the barrister chaired a three-day public inquiry into the village green application at Morley Town Hall in May. Her advice was later endorsed by Leeds City Council’s legal department.

Solicitor Joanne Fearnley and trainee solicitor James Kimberley, from the commercial property team of Yorkshire law firm Gordons, advised the owners on objecting to the application, with barrister Alan Evans, of Kings Chambers, representing them at the public inquiry.

Joanne explained: “These applications are a real headache for landowners and developers and can tie sites up for years. They’re often used to try to prevent development outside the planning process rather than protect genuine legal rights. In this case, the council have accepted the inspector’s recommendation that the action group has produced insufficient evidence to satisfy the criteria for village green status.

“In particular, the group has failed to show that the land has been used for lawful sports and pastimes, as of right, to a significant extent and with enough continuity during the last 20 years. It has also fallen short in showing a significant number of inhabitants of qualifying localities or neighbourhoods have utilised the site throughout the last two decades.”

Terry Wooding said the owners were delighted the application for village green status had failed. He said the owners’ assertion that no legal rights existed in favour of the community over the site had now been confirmed by the council’s decision.

He said: “Our advice from Gordons was always that the campaigners would find it difficult to provide evidence to demonstrate all the criteria had been met and that view has now been fully vindicated.

“The advice and service we have had from Gordons has been comprehensive and first-class. They clearly have significant expertise when it comes to advising people and organisations on overcoming attempts to thwart residential or commercial development.”