At the Greenfields Recreation Camp in Shrewsbury, a yoga class ends while people walk around with their dogs and children play before school. It is a peaceful scene … but far from the park a fierce battle has been fought between the neighbors and the town hall, and now it is heading for the supreme court.
In 2017, Shrewsbury City Council sold a section of the park to a high-end housing developer, but without consulting the community or even announcing the proposed sale, although there was a legal requirement to do so. ho.
“It’s like someone coming and selling a part of your garden to build and not checking to see if it was theirs to sell, or asking about it,” said Marion Curtis, part of the 300-person Greenfields community group. residents. “That’s what made me so angry.”
The December Supreme Court hearing could also have an impact on local authorities across the country. City councils are compensating for government funding deficits, and are trying to meet the demand for new homes by selling developers land bags intended for the public. This is happening at an alarming rate: it is estimated that almost half of public land in Britain has been sold since the 1970s, and that more than 4,000 public spaces and buildings are sold each year in England alone.
Marion Curtis of the Greenfields community group. Photography: Fabio De Paola / The Observer
The Greenfields land was first purchased by the local authority in 1926 for £ 1,000 and kept in trust for community use. With a request for freedom of information, Peter Day, who led the campaign, was able to get hold of the park’s deeds.
The documents, which have been viewed by the Observer, show that the area in question was part of the larger park, rather than “adjacent land”, which is how the city council describes the area. He was transferred to Shrewsbury Town Hall in 2010 during the reorganization of local authorities.
During World War II, the area was used for the Dig For Victory campaign and became temporary plots. After that, the area simply did not re-enter the main park and was let go wild.
In 2019, a judicial review found that the local authority “did not take reasonable steps” to establish before the sale whether the site was part of the recreational precinct, which was “very likely” to be the case. However, Ms Justice Lang concluded that public rights to the site could not be applied to the developer.
In 2020, external auditor PKF Littlejohn Ltd found “serious government flaws” in the sale of public space. Amanda Spencer, deputy city secretary of the council, said Shrewsbury City Council is taking the matter very seriously. The council set up an independent investigation, led by Michael Redfern QC, into the sale of the land.
Published last month, the report is an awkward read for the council. Redfern found “powerful and irrefutable” evidence that the area sold was always part of the park. He said the council “raised the drawbridge and went down”, refused to liaise with residents and sought refuge in the mistaken belief that the area was not part of the park “beyond any period that may be considered reasonable. “
“We can’t comment in detail until we carefully consider their findings,” Spencer said. A public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.
Day says it has been a “David and Goliath” struggle to get to this stage, but the campaign is now bigger than them. “Every month, I get emails from groups all over the country and down the country who are starting similar battles who want to know how far we’ve come,” he says.
“Our case could set a national precedent, one way or another. Either we lose, and local authorities see it as okay to sell parks or sections of parks, or, if we win, councils can rethink their plans for “Selling similar bags of public land. That’s what’s at stake. It’s not just about our local community anymore.”