Canterbury council bosses were this week racking up a huge legal bill battling to keep control of picturesque land in Herne Bay. A five-day public inquiry to stop the Downs being granted Village Green status opened on Monday 28th November, with top London barrister Richard Ground fighting the city council’s corner against local campaigner Phil Rose.
Mr Rose wants the mile-long stretch between the Kings Hall and Bishopstone Glen to be made a Village Green – taking its control out of council hands and protecting it from development. He made the application in September 2009 after plans surfaced to build beach huts on the eastern side of the site.
The council refused to support the bid, but independent inspector Lana Wood will rule on the case after the inquiry ends on Friday. It is expected complicated legal issues about what the land is actually owned for will play a huge part in her decision.
Mr Rose has collected more than 1,000 questionnaires from people backing his fight, making it the most strongly-supported application for a Village Green ever made in England and Wales. To qualify for the status, land must have been used by locals for “lawful sports and pastimes” for at least 20 years.
Mr Rose told the inquiry those who answered questionnaires had used the land for as long as 86 years. He also listed more than 70 sports and pastimes the land is used for, including dog walking, football, sledding, sunbathing and bagpipe playing. He said:
“We have met every single one of the tests required to register the application land as a Village Green.”
Barrister Mr Ground said most of the Downs has been owned by the city council or previous public authorities since the Second World War – large parts for longer. He added the council had no intention of developing the land or stopping anyone from using it for recreational purposes.