It has been argued by many, that covenants restricting development do not hold much legal weight and can be easily overturned in the face of planning laws and housing targets. However, it would seem that may not be true: a campaigner in Otley against the Taylor Wimpey development in Weston, has found that the firm had to demolish 24 newly built houses in Prestbury, Gloucestershire in December last year. The land Taylor Wimpey were building on, which they had purchased in 2006 for £11.5m to build 124 houses, had a covenant on part of it dating back to 1936, which said that no development was to take place, in order to protect the view.
Local residents banded together in 2000 when the land was first marked as suitable for development, to try and get the covenant enforced. In 2002 a public enquiry endorsed the local council view that Taylor Wimpey could purchase the land – despite the covenant, and fears about flood risk and traffic congestion . But, residents, led by Geoff Beardmore, fought on: when work started in 2007 they started court proceedings, and worked ‘around the clock’ to make their case, which included the fact the developer had been told about the covenant from the beginning.
The 22 residents, supported by local people, expert witnesses, and lay representatives, won their battle in January 2011 at a land tribunal; after development had started. The ‘judge’ concluded that, “I find on the evidence that the extensive works carried out were not an inadvertent action resulting from the discovery of the covenant at a late stage in the development programme. Rather, they were the result of a deliberate strategy of forcing through the development on the restricted land in the face of many objections.”
Nearly 12months later, in December 2011, 24 new houses were razed to the ground and Taylor Wimpey left the site: Mr Beardmore told the papers, “We did not seek confrontation with the developers and did everything possible to persuade them to respect the covenant. It is regrettable that we were forced to go all the way to the wire to obtain this result, but I hope it will give encouragement to other groups who are challenging inappropriate developments.”
The land, still owned by Taylor Wimpey, is now to become an amenity green space for the village and the rest of the development. However, by June 2012 a final decision on exactly what type of green space was still to be announced by the company – despite a consultation with residents who requested either a wildlife meadow or a nature reserve.
As SHLAA sites are assessed for site allocations as part of local development frameworks, it would be worthwhile all local residents checking out covenants – otherwise they might well go ‘missing’, as has been found in some areas. There is also a lesson here about acting early, when land is put on the SHLAA, and, like Menston and Yeadon Banks, to keep on fighting if the cause is a just one.
There is also some lessons for green space development on land owned by developers – it may be necessary for a local Friends group to take on relevant negotiations for looking after the land in a suitable form of tenure. This has been the case with Parkinson’s Park in Guiseley, and there has been issues with the green space plans at High Royds in Menston.