CCTV camera cited as evidence that River Lawn cannot be ‘village green’

CCTV camera cited as evidence that River Lawn cannot be 'village green'

The campaign group Keep River Lawn Green [KRLG] remains optimistic despite Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council spending more than £10,000 on legal fees to fight the application.

If the land is deemed to be part of a development plan or has had a planning application approved, it cannot be given village green status.

The council is arguing that permission to install a single CCTV camera on the edge of the site 15 years ago is sufficient to stop the bid.

It also claims that the half-acre plot in the town centre was identified as a potential site for development in the Tonbridge Central Area Action Plan of 2008.

According to a Freedom of Information request by KRLG, the council has spent £11,825 plus VAT on barristers and a QC to protect its financial interest in the site.

Its Cabinet voted to sell River Lawn for residential housing in 2017. But the Barden Residents’ Association approached Kent County Council with its green plan at the start of this year.

County Hall has confirmed that it is currently working on its final report and is about to send out invitations to the decisive meeting.

KRLG’s chair, Emma Hood, told the Times: “The site was not included in the current draft Local Plan for development. And they have highlighted a bigger area than the CCTV camera is in.

“If you read the rest of the Action Plan document, it talks about developing the area in an environmental way as a conservation area, and about developing the front of the bordering properties. I think it’s just semantics.”

Adrian Stanfield, the council’s Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Central Services, said: “The legislation relating to village green applications excludes the right to apply for registration where a prescribed event, known as a ‘trigger event’, has occurred within the planning system relating to that land.

“The borough council has made representations to Kent County Council that two such trigger events have occurred in relation to the land at River Lawn, and are currently awaiting determination of the application by the county council.”

KRLG countered the council’s legal strategy by gaining assistance from the Environmental Law Foundation [ELF], which has provided a barrister on a pro-bono basis.

Mrs Hood said: “Without the assistance of ELF we would have faced difficulty in responding to the objections made by the borough council.

“Without the ELF many people would not have the funds, knowledge or resources to fight legal teams from councils, property developers etc. to protect green spaces.

“They help to readdress the imbalance between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our society, ensuring all can benefit from specialist legal advice and representation.”

KRLG have been represented by Cain Ormondroyd, who earlier this year overturned a judicial review brought by a developer in Lancaster against a village green application made seven years ago.

Mrs Hood said: “ELF invited me to a 25-year celebration in London and it was impressive the calibre of people they have – Prince Charles is their patron.

“One barrister told me it’s not about how much money you’ve got, it’s about supporting communities, and that really gives you courage.”

She added: “It would have cost an absolute fortune for us to hire a barrister. There is no way we could have put up an advice to the council’s advice – it cost us £900 just for a single letter from a solicitor.”

“I presented them with information about the village green, the fight for River Lawn, our protests and how the land was used in the past.”

She points out that after the end of World War One the Urban District Council, the forerunner of the current borough council, purchased the land using ratepayers’ money.

Veterans were employed by the Employment Grants Committee to renovate and regenerate the area in order to help with their rehabilitation.

The Union Cinema Company tried to build on River Lawn but ‘were informed that the council were not prepared to sell or grant a building lease in respect of the land’.

Then in the 1950s the British Legion requested to build a hut there but the council said it was a ‘ludicrous prospect’ akin to building on Castle Lawn.

Today sites can be put up for the application ‘by virtue of the use of the land for the purposes of lawful sports and pastimes as of right and without challenge by the landowner for a period of over 20 years’.

KRLG says the First Tonbridge Scouts Group, based at Lamberts Yard, have been using River Lawn at least since the 1920s.


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