A community is fighting to save its unofficial village green from development. Neil Elkes reports.
Fetes, barbecues, street parties, Christmas festivities, fireworks nights and royal celebrations have helped turn a quiet Birmingham cul-de-sac into a close-knit community over the past four decades.
But now all that is under threat because a developer wants to build a detached house and road on what the residents consider is their village green.
Midland Park Homes, of Brindleyplace, has been accused of rushing through plans for a new housing estate, part of it on the land in question, to beat the expected award of village green status.
The small patch of open space has been used by families in Austin Rise, Longbridge, for at least 37 years and today they feel it is the key to the social life of the road.
Their photograph albums are packed with pictures of street parties and social events, including the Silver and Golden Jubilees in 1977 and 2002.
And almost every day during the warmer months, children are out playing and dogs are being walked in safety away from the heavy traffic of neighbouring streets.
This week the green has been the scene of snowball battles, with only a “Save Our Open Space” banner giving any indication of impending trouble.
A few months ago the neighbours banded together to preserve this land using village green legislation introduced in 2007.
An application, unopposed, is being considered by Birmingham City Council and is due to be decided by the Licensing Committee within weeks.
Village green status offers extra protection from the developers, eager to build on any patch of open space in a desirable neighbourhood.
But it has not come soon enough to stop Midland Park Homes applying for permission to build 14 houses on land which includes the prospective village green.
The firm hopes to build seven detached, four semi-detached and three terraced properties on the site, with parking for 25 cars and a new access road, which will cut across the green.
Pauline Clevin, who moved into the street 37 years ago, said: “It is a small patch of land in terms of size, but an enormous patch of land for the people who live here and the quality of life.
“That is why we applied for village green status. We felt it was worth protecting.”
She said the housing estate could be built with an alternative access road.
“The land has a history of social and communal use,” she added. “We have had three fatalities on local roads recently and this is a safe place for children to play.”
She said the nearest park was across a road which had seen three fatal car crashes in recent years.
Teacher Mandy Haynes, who has lived next to the green for 15 years, said: “It is the centre of our community. We have got to know each other out there. Our children play there. We’ve held all sorts of celebrations.
“It is a wonderful resource that someone wants to take away. I know my children are safe there.”
Among annual celebrations are the fireworks night gathering and this week the arrival of Santa Claus to see local children.
The city council planning committee has been asked to consider the Midland Park application and has heard evidence against the plan from Ms Clevin and local councillor Reg Corns.
Coun Reg Corns (Cons, Northfield) said: “This has been used by the community for 36 years. This has been recognised by this council as it has cut the grass.
“No one has objected to the village green application. We ask that the committee wait until that is decided before considering this planning application.”
But planning officer Chris Cox replied that the village green application was a separate process and not a material planning matter. She added that the land was not designated as public open space.
The planning department had recommended approval claiming that the development was sustainable and in line with local policy.
Committee member Coun Keith Linnecor (Lab, Oscott) said: “It is not clear from our plans how much of the site is this village green area. I don’t see any reason why we should not go and take a look.
“I also have some concerns about trees on the site.”
He was commenting on claims that scores of trees on the wider area of land behind Austin Rise, known locally as “the orchard”, were felled in July.
The committee agreed to visit Austin Rise before making a decision in the new year.
Village green applications are decided by the council’s Licensing Committee, which is not scheduled to meet until January 20.
* Probe into claims that legislation
is subject to widespread abuse
The Government is to reconsider the rules surrounding village green status due to claims of widespread abuse.
While many communities have taken advantage of the legislation to protect valued local resources, developers have claimed that many applications are made simply to thwart building plans.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commissioned the Countryside and Community Research Institute and Asken to examine a sample of the sites which have, and have not, been registered as town and village greens, and to determine whether the sites were earmarked for development in local development plans or subject to planning applications.
But the Open Spaces Society is opposing the review.
Nicola Hodgson, the Open Spaces Society’s case officer, said: “The current process for registering land as greens in England only took effect in April 2007. Since then, we have assisted many communities to register land which they have long enjoyed and cherished for quiet recreation. We are dismayed that there are plans to review this new process.
“We are also concerned that, even though the report to Defra shows that the majority of village green applications are made to preserve land for the benefit of the local community rather than because the land is threatened by development proposals, Defra intends to carry out a review of the process for registering greens.
“We fear that this review is being fuelled by a few controversial cases, and that it could lead to the loss of a legitimate process for local people to record as greens land which they have long used and enjoyed.”
But the Country, Land and Business Association, which represents landowners, welcomed the review.
President William Worsley said: “The CLA has long been a supporter of the traditional village green. However, we have become concerned at the high number of last-minute applications for the designation of village greens that are stopping crucially needed affordable rural housing developments in their tracks – many of which have already been granted planning permission.”
Land can be regarded as a village green if it has been used by a community freely and openly for leisure and sport for 20 years. Once registered, the land is protected from development.