Village green status will save Tonbridge's River Lawn from developers
by Andy Tong | 30th January 2019
A RESIDENTS' Association in Tonbridge has succeeded in its bid to have River Lawn considered for village green status after the council trying to block the move.
Campaigners are hailing the news as a ‘stepping stone’ towards stopping any development from being permitted on the town centre green space.
A public consultation runs until March 16, after which Kent County Council [KCC] will make a decision.
Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s [TMBC] Cabinet voted to sell River Lawn for residential housing in 2017.
The decision came after a hard-fought campaign by the protest group Keep River Lawn Green [KRLG] to preserve the half-acre plot for public use.
‘It’s very good news to get past this first hurdle. The council are hamstrung, they cannot develop the land or sell it if it’s a village green’
Now County Hall has accepted the application by the Barden Residents' Association to register the land as a village green despite the borough council attempting to stop the move on the grounds that the site was affected by ‘development proposals’.
KRLG’s chair, Mark Hood, said: “It’s very good news to get past this first hurdle. The council are hamstrung, they cannot develop the land or sell it if it’s a village green.
“If the area is in a development plan, it doesn’t qualify. So you have to get the application in beforehand, which we did.
“We’ve been talking to the Open Spaces Society and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and our solicitor told us to get the application in straightaway.”
He explained: “This is part of the problem that the council have got, because they are selling off River Lawn – and a property on River Walk – without planning permission so they aren’t getting the full value of the land from the sale. They’ve shot themselves in the foot.”
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’.
The Residents’ Association says the First Tonbridge Scouts Group, based at Lamberts Yard, have been using River Lawn at least since the 1920s, playing games and practising putting up tents.
There also used to be a fête there, with scouts ringing a large bell on Lamberts Yard to attract the attention of passers-by on the High Street.
“We’re confident we can satisfy the criteria,” said Mr Hood. “As well as the scouts, people eat their lunch there, there are events going on – and with the new Medical Centre next door people will want somewhere where they can sit quietly.
'It’s the stepping stone to having the pocket park that we wanted when we applied to have it as an Asset of Community Value'
“It’s the stepping stone to having the pocket park that we wanted when we applied to have it as an Asset of Community Value – when unfortunately we were priced out of the market.”
KRLG persuaded the borough council to designate the site as an Asset of Community Value a matter of weeks before it voted to sell off the land.
In principle that gave KRLG an option to buy the site, which has been valued at £2,125,000.
Melanie McNeir, KCC’s Public Rights of Way and Commons Registration Officer, wrote to the Barden Residents’ Association saying: “Before the County Council is able to consider any application to register land as a village green, it is required to write to the relevant planning authorities to obtain confirmation that none of the provisions set out in Schedule 1A to the Commons Act 2006 apply to the land in question (ie. confirmation that the land in question is not directly affected by any development proposals).
“My colleague has made the necessary enquiries and, although Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council has suggested that the application should not be considered on the basis that the land is affected by development, the County Council’s view (on the basis of legal advice received) is that your application is not affected by any of the provisions set out in Schedule 1A to the Commons Act 2006.”
Adrian Stanfield, TMBC’s director of central services, said: “The borough council does not consider that the area of open space at River Lawn Road is capable of registration as a village green.
“We shall be making appropriate representations to Kent County Council during the consultation period.”
Residents can write to commons.villagegreens @kent.gov.uk quoting reference VGA677
Green with envy: High Brooms
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was stopped from developing a site in High Brooms in 2013 after it was designated as a village green.
It wanted to build six houses on a field adjacent to South View Road and Holmewood Road, but withdrew its planning application.
Local residents then convinced KCC to safeguard the land’s future by demonstrating continual free access and a range of -recreational uses.