St Albans community meadow protected after Appeal Court ruling
PUBLISHED: 13:54 25 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:54 25 May 2018
A meadow in St Albans has been allowed to retain its status as an asset of community value following an Appeal Court ruling.
Bedmond Field, off Bedmond Lane, was listed as an asset of community value (ACV) in 2014, after a request from the Verulam Residents Association. The meadow has been the subject of numerous appeals, both against the ACV status and against the refusal to allow horses to graze on the site.
The meadow’s owners, Banner Homes, which is owned by Cala Homes, initially appealed against St Albans district council’s decision to list the meadow as an ACV at a first tier tribunal in 2015, but were unsuccessful. The company took its case to an ‘upper tribunal’ the following year, but the appeal was once again dismissed, and Banner Homes challenged the upper tribunal’s decision on a point of law at the Court of Appeal in February this year.
This week, judges Lord Justice Davis, Lady Justice Sharp and Sir Rupert Jackson delivered their unanimous verdict to uphold the council’s decision. They also refused Banner Homes’s application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Timothy Beecroft, chair of Verulam Residents’ Association, said: “We’re happy that the courts have come to what seems to be the right decision but we’re well aware that it’s only one stage in a very long campaign.
“This is the fourth time that Banner has appealed against the council’s decision to list the field as an ACV, and the fourth time they have lost.
“All three of the eminent judges who heard the case ruled that the appeal should be dismissed. Given the history of this case it would be no surprise if Banner appealed against this decision and the whole issue ended up being decided once and for all in the Supreme Court.
“This could take a couple of years at least. In the meantime the field, sadly, remains fenced off to local residents who have used it for years.
“We also await the court case in which Banner will attempt to overthrow the Planning Inspector’s decision to support SADC’s decision to reject Banner’s planning application to build stables and road accesses on the field.
“If this all sounds rather complicated - well it is. But one thing is clear. Residents will continue to campaign to keep Bedmond Lane Field as an unspoilt and much-loved part of the local scene.”
At the hearing, Lady Justice Sharp noted that Bedmond Lane is around seven acres in size and is bisected by two public footpaths. The field has been used by the community for more than 40 years, with people walking their dogs, flying kites and children playing.
Under the Localism Act 2011, voluntary or community organisations can nominate a building or area to be listed as an ACV by their local council.
If the owner of an ACV plans to sell the asset, they have to inform the council and give community groups six months to raise money to buy it, although they are not obliged to sell to them.
After the ACV was granted, Banner Homes fenced off all but the two footpaths and put up notices saying ‘Private land, no unauthorised access’.
Lord Justice Davis said it was unfortunate that Banner Homes “felt constrained, in order to protect its commercial interests as the landowner, to fence off the field from the public footpaths”.
He added: “It would be a further unfortunate consequence if other land owners, perhaps holding land with a view to potential development in the future, likewise were to feel constrained to restrict public access to their land.”
Due to the field being fenced off, residents currently cannot use the meadow for its original community uses. ACV status expires after five years, and residents worry Banner Homes will argue the field is no longer eligible as it is no longer being used by the community.
Timothy said: “As it’s fenced off it’s going to be very difficult to get the ACV status renewed when it expires next year. “The important thing is we don’t want it built on - if we can’t get on to it, we can’t get on to it.”
Banner Homes has previously lost an appeal to overturn the council’s refusal to allow them to build two stables on the site, allowing horses to graze. The proposed development, which members of the Residents Association argue would be inappropriate on the Green Belt, would also have included two road accesses from Mayne Avenue and Parklands Drive.