This week there are many, many people in Aireborough delighted with the news that Yeadon Banks is, at last, safe from development: after an eight year battle, that saw the owners, Leeds Group plc, threaten to go to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that they should have ‘peaceful enjoyment of their land’.
The Supreme Court of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this week, refused to give Leeds Group permission to appeal to the ECHR. Instead, they confirmed Yeadon Banks status as a town green. A status it won in 2007, after a long battle over the original application in 2004. Leeds Group, who own 5 acres of the 15 acre site, have been appealing against the green status since 2004, on the basis that the decision to register the land as a town green was wrong in law. The Supreme Court decided that the point of law being argued was not of public importance, and that the Court of Appeal had been correct in their judgement. They added, that the matter had now been ‘exhaustively considered’.
The Commons Act 2006 states that land can be registered as a town or village green where “a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission”. The law on commons originally came into being in 2000, under an amendment of section 98 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, part of the Commons Registration Act 1965.
Leeds Group initially argued that the 20 year rule, meant that no land could be considered as a green for 20 years, until 2020. Under current legislation, village green status can still be sought even after planning permission has been granted, and will prevent building on the land. If village green status is acquired after the development is completed, the building must be demolished. This is one of the strategies that Menston Action Group are employing.
Keep Yeadon Banks Green Action Group (KYBAG), together with support and finance from the Open Spaces Society, have had a long hard fight to get to this end point, especially Chairman, Doug Jones, who has led the charge; as well as caring for his terminally ill wife. Nicola Hodgson, of Open Spaces said this week, “we are grateful to Doug Jones for pursuing the case with such courage and determination, and to his lawyers, Mr Robert Williams of Counsel, and Mr Jerry Pearlman of Zermansky solicitors. This has established an important point of law, as well as preserving a much-valued open space for the community,’ .
The saga of the Banks, has had many twists and turns; after the initial fight to register the green, (which included an appeal over a loophole in the law about fencing off land – which was resolved in the House of Lords) there has been an appeal in the High Court, and two in the Court of Appeal, in 2010 and again in 2011. After the last of these, won by KEYBAG last December, it was found, on top of everything else, that the land had been listed in Leeds’ strategic housing land availability assessment database (SHLAA) by a Partnership committee that includes three housing developers. Hopefully it will now be removed from the SHLAA this summer, along with Parkinson’s Park in Guiseley.
KEYBAG have been pushed to the limit of both mental and financial capacity by Leeds Group, a tactic used time and time again by many developers, who recieve costs if they win. Mr Jones has, personally spent £1,500 of his own money on the case. As MP, Philip Davies, said at a recent WARD meeting, it is wrong that developers should have this right for vexatious litigation, when the community has no right of appeal at all. The NPPF should have levelled the playing field.
The decision this week gives hope to other local groups who are trying to save community green space with town/village green applications in places such as Steeton and Menston. Martin Hughes of WARD and Chairman of Horsforth Civic Trust, who is fighting development plans at Outwood Lane, Horsforth, enthused, “it is SOOO good to know that the man in the street CAN sometimes win!”