Wrangling over green open space

Ashfield Park, Standish
Ashfield Park, Standish

COUNCIL bosses have defended their decision to fight a legal bid to save a Wigan park.

They are currently the only objectors to an application by Standish independent councillor Gareth Fairhurst to have Ashfield Park made into a village green which would secure its status as a public open space.

However, town hall chiefs say that their decision doesn’t mean that they have their own alternative scheme in mind for the popular recreation area off Wigan Road.

The application will be decided by a Government inspector who will chair hold a public inquiry later this year.

To succeed, proposers must show that the land has been enjoyed by the community, for legal sports and pastimes, for an uninterrupted period of 20 years.

Successful registration of a village green makes it a criminal offence for a land owner to interfere with the rights of the public thereafter to sue the land. It becomes an offence to enclose any part of the village green and the registration takes precedence over other legislation such as the granting of planning permission.

Ownership of the land does not change, although there is an ability under the procedure for an application for registration to take over the maintenance of a village green, although there is no obligation to do so.

Coun Gareth Fairhurst today declined to comment, but he was ordered to be “not heard” by the Mayor Coun Myra Whiteside at the last full council meeting after branding Labour councillors as “spineless chickens” over Ashfield at a bad tempered meeting.

In May, Coun Fairhurst failed in a bid to call a special council meeting to debate a redevelopment bid by Cheshire-based Morris Homes.

The builders had suggested relocating the park’s play and sports facilities to the former Standish Golf Club course on Rectory Lane, on the other side of the village, leaving the popular play area and sports pitches for new “executive” houses.

The Village Green application - if approved, would by law prevent any development there. Morris Homes have also declined to comment.But a council spokesman insisted that the Village Green application had been treated “no differently” to any other application for village green status on land owned by the Council.

He said: “Before agreeing to the objection, the Council was satisfied that there are good grounds for objecting to the application and that the Council- as landowner - doesn’t believe that the statutory tests necessary for the land to be registered as a town or village green have been met in this case.

By objecting to the application the Council - as landowner - is not indicating that it has any alternative plans for the land.

“If it did not object however and the application succeeded then it would effectively mean that the site would be sterilised in perpetuity thereby removing any options for the land at any time in the future, possibly even including improvements to sporting or play facilities, which is not something that a responsible landowner would want.”