Bishop's Stortford Town Council seeks solutions to Thorley Park land grabs
A strategy to safeguard Thorley Park's green spaces is being investigated by Bishop's Stortford Town Council.
Concerns have been prompted by plans to build a home on land used as a play area and footpath for more than 30 years at Winchester Close and a Mathams Drive resident's attempt to enlarge his garden by fencing off part of the greensward fronting Greenhill Park.
The cases have highlighted inconsistencies in land ownership specific to the 1970s estate, so the town council has decided its first task is to ask East Herts how and why the district failed to adopt the isolated pockets of land from the original builders.
The collapse of construction giant Carillion last year and the liquidation of its assets has been blamed for the flurry of applications to utilise the plots.
Cllr John Wyllie, the town council's leader, who is also a district and Herts county councillor, said the highways authority should be asked to designate the Winchester Close land as a "first urgent action" to block the current planning application.
He said: "If the original developer wanted to build a house there, they would have built a house there. They obviously intended this to be green space and we should be asking East Herts why they were not passed over."
Chief executive James Parker talked the committee through the options open to the council - and their pitfalls.
He said two possible courses of action were adopting the parcels as Assets of Community Value (ACV) or designating them as a Local Green Space (LGS).
However, he warned that to qualify as an ACV, the actual principal use of the land and/or building must further the social wellbeing or social interests of the community.
If approved by the district council, the listing lasts for five years and if the owner decides to sell during that period, they must notify the authority. Then a community group may request a stay for six months in order to raise the funds to purchase.
After the deadline has passed, the owner may sell to whomever they choose and at whatever price and can claim compensation for any loss resulting from the listing.
Mr Parker suggested that was not a sensible way to safeguard so many potential small parcels of land. He said: "ACVs were conceived mostly for pubs."
To qualify as an LGS, the land must be demonstrably special to a community and hold a particular significance, for example, because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value, including as a playing field, tranquillity or richness of its wildlife.
Mr Parker said it might be possible to change the neighbourhood plan to include such parcels, affording them the same protection as Green Belt, but the process was not simple.
The council would have to create a completely new plan, which would take two or three years and require a referendum to adopt it or submit the requested additions to an examiner.
He said: "If the changes are judged by the examiner not fundamentally to alter the character of the plan, no referendum is necessary. With the exception of the referendum, however, the full process must be followed."
He suggested only the most significant open spaces at Thorley Park could be safeguarded in this way and the committee chairman, Cllr Keith Warnell, agreed.
Mr Parker will report back to the committee after the district and county councils respond.