Park trespasser claims crucial to bid rejection

Coun Gareth Fairhurst hosted a petition and fun day at Ashfields Park, Standish to raise community awareness of the proposed sell off to a housing company. Pictured are two girls with the a banner
Coun Gareth Fairhurst hosted a petition and fun day at Ashfields Park, Standish to raise community awareness of the proposed sell off to a housing company. Pictured are two girls with the a banner
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A failed bid for a Wigan park to become a village green (VG) was scuppered as the applicant failed to prove residents were “tolerated trespassers”.

Barrister Alan Evans rejected the claim which proved crucial to the overall decision to deny VG status to Ashfield Park in Standish.

The recommendation to reject the bid was announced last week but the detailed report has been seen by the Observer ahead of public release.

It records that Mr Evans - acting as an independent inspector - concluded Ashfield Park has been “held by the council for public recreational use under appropriate statutory power” and the public’s use of it had been “by right”.

Adding: “The users of Ashfield Park were not trespassers, tolerated or otherwise.”

Applicant Gareth Fairhurst, a ward councillor for Standish, had sought to prove that residents had been using the site “as of right” or without specific permission, in order to meet VG criteria.

Part of his submission had focussed on an application by a resident to hold a public event on the park and that the council had requested an application form.

Mr Fairhurst and his legal advisor Ruth Stockley presented this as proof that all other activities on the park had been without permission.

However, Mr Evans also rejected this claim, stating: “I do not regard it as inconsistent with the fact that the public has a right to use Ashfield Park for recreation that any particular organised event might nevertheless require permission.

“To point to an exception does not disprove a rule. The council is entitled to retain control over events.

“And the fact that the line between what constitutes an event requiring permission and what does not is not the subject of any written protocol does not appear to me to advance the applicant’s case.”

The town hall is not legally obliged to follow an inspector’s decision but having long maintained VG status was not necessary it is expected that the report will be formally accepted at a committee meeting next week.

Coun Fairhurst has not ruled out appealing the decision after what has been a long-running campaign and bitter dispute with the town hall over the future of the park.