Shropshire Star

Greenfields park row: Sensational win for Shrewsbury residents in David v Goliath court battle

Residents have sensationally won their David vs Goliath battle against Shropshire Council to save a valued piece of parkland in Shrewsbury.

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Local residents who campaigned to get the land back

The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has today handed down a landmark ruling that a trust covering a disputed part of the Greenfields Recreation Ground could not be overruled by simply selling it to a private buyer.

The land was sold in 2017 by Shrewsbury Town Council to CSE Developments to build 15 homes, but campaigners argued that it should have been designated for community use.

Lady Rose, on behalf of five Supreme Court judges, said their judgment was unanimous and would act as a warning to other local councils that they need to take proper stock when they seek to sell public land.

She said that message was "all to the good".

Fencing put up at Greenfields Recreation Fields

Lady Rose said Shrewsbury Town Council had "not done its research" into a part of the land. That research, she said had been carried out by Dr Peter Day, a Greenfields resident, who had discovered that the land was covered by a statutory trust.

In selling the site, Shrewsbury Town Council failed to comply with the statutory requirements contained in section 123(2A) of the Local Government Act 1972, that it must be advertised for two consecutive weeks in a local newspaper, and any points raised considered.

It might all have been different if the council had paid for newspaper adverts, but it did not, and this turned out to be the fatal flaw that undermined its arguments.

The site at the centre of the dispute

Lady Rose said that Parliament had long recognised the importance for the local community to have green spaces. It places very strong legal limits on what councils can do, she said. This included advertising in local papers.

When Shrewsbury Town Council sold the land to CSE in 2017 it "did not realise that land was subject to a trust".

And when Shropshire Council gave the developer permission to build homes there it "did not take it into account".

Lady Rose said there was no wholly satisfactory result, and it leaves CSE as an "unfortunate purchaser". But the court examined laws going back over a century to come to its conclusion. She said the "planning permission must be quashed".

Dr Day says he expects Shrewsbury Town Council to be true to its word and restore the land to be a fully functioning part of Greenfields Recreation Ground.

He said: “I and the people of Shrewsbury feel completely vindicated by today’s ruling. This saga should never have dragged on for so long and would never have happened if Shrewsbury Town Council had kept proper records of public land and the statutory trust which granted the people of Shrewsbury rights over the land 100 years ago.

Greenfields Recreation Ground

“The people of Shrewsbury should have been properly consulted about the selling off of land that had been given to us to use for recreation in 1926. Simply to say that because neither the council nor the developer knew about the statutory trust is not a good enough reason to be able to sell the land from under us and then to allow plans for development to continue. Thankfully the Supreme Court agreed with us on that.

“This clarification of the planning law applying to the sale and development of public land is a warning to local authorities and a victory for community groups across the country.”

Leigh Day solicitor Stephanie Hill, who represented Dr Day, said: “My client and the Greenfields community have been fighting for years to save this land from development, and I am delighted that, as a result of this legal case, the grant of planning permission has now been quashed.

“This judgment recognises how important it is for local authorities to consider the recreation rights of local communities when considering the sale or development of land and will be hugely significant for our client and other local community groups who wish to protect their right to open spaces.”

The appeal to the Supreme Court was supported by the Good Law Project which helped to crowdfund to help with legal costs.

Hannah Greer, campaigns manager for the Good Law Project, said: “Recreational spaces are so important for our quality of life, and that was especially highlighted during the pandemic. It’s simply not right for these spaces to be sold off without any consultation with those who use them.

"We hope this will set a new precedent in how local authorities manage and maintain public spaces in the future."

Shropshire Council in its response said it would study the judgement and what it means for the planning permission for the site which has been quashed.

A spokesman said; "In light of the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court, Shropshire Council notes that following very detailed consideration of the relative legislative provisions, the Supreme Court has reached a different view to the Court of Appeal and High Court decision, and accordingly has quashed the planning permission which was granted by Shropshire Council in 2018 for 15 dwellings on land off Greenfields recreation ground, Falstaff Street, Shrewsbury.

“We will study the judgement carefully, in particular what this now means for the planning application which becomes undetermined when the quashing order is made.”

A spokesman for Shrewsbury Town Council, which is under pressure to buy back the land it sold for £550,000, said the party group leaders are meeting today and they expect to make a statement later today (Wednesday).