To protect any more of Mycenae Gardens from being sold by the Council, an application has been made by members of the local community to register the gardens as a town or village green. The application will be decided on Wed Feb 11th at 18.15 at the Woolwich Town Hall by a Committee of the Council. This means that the Council is acting 'as judge in its own case'. Members of the public can attend and (if arranged in advance) speak at the meeting.
The Council has described the gardens, as ‘a well used and much treasured oasis used by local people and Mycenae House users alike. They are ideal for wedding parties, picnics, informal children’s games etc.” They have been used in this way since the Council bought them in the 1960s. The gardens therefore seem to meet all the statutory criteria for registration as a Town or Village Green under a law introduced in 2007, e.g. that a significant number of local residents have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years. The only point that the Council disputes is whether they did so ‘as of right’, that is without being given permission to do so by means of some form of communication, such as public notice.
The Council concedes that it has no evidence of any such communication or that people have not use it ‘as of right’. It made no attempt to refute the applicant’s evidence. Moreover the law says that once the 20 period has been achieved, any such grant of permission must be disregarded. But the Council seems likely to reject the application. If the land were registered, the Council would no longer be able to sell off any more for development. It has threatened to go to the European Court of Human Rights to seek compensation if it loses the ability to sell off the gardens to raise revenue.
The QC instructed by the Council advised them that “Basic fairness requires that where a matter depends in whole or in part on a determination of fact on which there is no appeal, the decision–maker must be as independent as the statute allows”
The regulations that came into force in 2008 go further than that. Regulation 27(2) provides that a Town or Village green application must be referred to the Planning Inspectorate for determination where a Council as registration authority has an interest in the outcome of the application and there is unlikely to be confidence in the authority’s ability impartially to determine the application.
The Council has already sold off some of the land to finance Council developments elsewhere. It could no longer do this if the land were registered as a village green. So the Council proposes to decide the application itself rather than refer it to an independent body like the Planning Inspectorate, a relatively cost-free alternative routinely used for disputed planning applications. The Council has already sought 5 – largely irrelevant – legal opinions at considerable cost. A formal complaint by the applicant about the conflict of interest has been rejected by the Council’s Chief Executive.
A major beneficiary of registration as a village green would be the Greenwich Steiner School. The school reportedly is committed to a 150 year lease for the buildings; but if the application were refused, its use of the land for sports and pastimes would be by permission which could be withdrawn at any time if a future Council decided to sell off the land for development. It is difficult to see how the school could be viable without the area the pupils have used as a playground for a decade or more.
Concern has been raised about the future of new flats on the site. Whatever view is taken of the flats (which are now virtually complete and were built in the grounds of a Grade II* listed building contrary to the explicit recommendation of the Council's conservation officer and English Heritage), the courts have ruled that land does not become a town or green until it is actually registered and the 19th Century statutes protecting greens are unlikely to apply to works or encroachments that were made prior to registration. The prime objective of the application is, therefore, to prevent any further development of the land. This seems in the interest of all users, including the school.
Further information from Lawrence Smith (8858 1006) – LFTSmith@orange.net