Shropshire Star

Council's vow to return £550,000 Shrewsbury land wrongfully sold 'ringing hollow' - councillor

Shrewsbury Town Council's vow to return land wrongfully sold for development in a £550,000 deal is "ringing hollow", a councillor has said.

Land at Greenfields Recreation Ground

The town council voted this week to wait until after a Supreme Court hearing to enter negotiations with developers after selling part of Greenfields Recreation Ground – a patch of land which an independent inquiry found should have been designated for community use.

Conservative councillor Alex Phillips, whose Bagley ward the land falls under, criticised other councillors who voted to wait.

He said: "I am deeply disappointed that Labour and Green Councillors have voted, at the Finance and General Purposes Committee to rule out any mediation or negotiation between Shrewsbury Town Council and the owners of the land ahead of the Supreme Court decision.

"Closing the door on mediation goes against the resolution made by the town council in June. This was that the town council considered all 'means by which the site can be returned to public ownership and made available as a public amenity' and the 'establishment of a process for mediation' as a potential tool to achieve that. I still very much support those aims.

"My local residents in Greenfields would be well within their rights to doubt the commitment of Labour and Green Councillors to work to bring the land back into public use. Their apologies and pledges in June are ringing increasingly hollow."

In an extraordinary general meeting in June, the town council "unreservedly" apologised over the sale of the land to CSE Developments in 2017, which was planning to build homes on the site. The battle over the land has been running for several years, and the Greenfields Community Group secured a date at the Supreme Court in December.

Earlier this month, council leader Alan Mosley said a planning barrister gave "unequivocal" advice for the council not to enter into mediation or discussion with the landowners until after the Supreme Court hearing.

A joint statement from Green councillors Julian Dean and Chris Lemon, who voted in favour of waiting until after the decision, said: “Our hearts are with the campaigners, but the town council is right to be cautious.

“Protecting and improving green spaces is a core value for Green Party councillors. If the town council can find means by which the site can be returned to public ownership which still allow much needed projects elsewhere to progress, then we will be overjoyed. If this happens, we would expect to see a management plan for the land drawn up with the local community. But we cannot support the writing of a blank cheque for this.”

Councillor Dean has added: “Some of the rhetoric has got out of hand so we believe it is important to make this statement now, in the hope that discussions on this can become more measured.

"The town council is being criticised for being cautious and taking its time. But that’s exactly what it should do as the impact on the whole town could be significant. It's a shame some town councillors are playing fast and loose with the future of projects for the whole town.”

"There is also some confusion about the planning permission. The town council actually objected to the agreed plans as we thought it was being ‘overdeveloped’ but the decision sits with the planning authority, which is Shropshire Council, not the town council.

The land in question has been separated from the rest of the public area for several decades. It was last used by Shrewsbury and Atcham as a tree nursery, until falling into disuse in the 1990s. The town council failed to uncover its status as legally part of the recreation ground when it was put up for sale. This meant a public consultation was missed. Subsequently the new owners won planning permission for 15 homes. There is a pending Supreme Court hearing on whether the planning permission granted by Shropshire Council should stand.