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Within the Greenfields recreation floor in Shrewsbury, a yoga class is wrapping up whereas, close by, individuals stroll their canine and youngsters play earlier than college. It’s a peaceable scene … however away from the park a fierce battle has been waging between residents and the council, and it’s now heading for the supreme court docket.

In 2017, a bit of the park was bought by Shrewsbury city council to a developer for high-end housing, however with out consulting the neighborhood and even promoting the proposed sale, regardless of there being a authorized requirement to take action.

“It’s like somebody coming alongside and promoting off part of your backyard to construct and never checking if it was theirs to dump, or asking you about it,” stated Marion Curtis, a part of the campaigning Greenfields Group Group, made up of 300 residents. “That’s what made me actually offended.”

The supreme court docket listening to in December may additionally have an effect on native authorities throughout the nation. Councils are making up for shortfalls in authorities funding – and making an attempt to fulfill the demand for brand new homes – by promoting off to builders pockets of land meant for the general public. That is occurring at an alarming price: it’s estimated that almost half of public land in Britain has been bought off because the Nineteen Seventies, and that greater than 4,000 public areas and buildings are being bought off yearly in England alone.

Marion Curtis of the Greenfields Group Group. {Photograph}: Fabio De Paola/The Observer

The Greenfields land was first purchased by the native authority in 1926 for £1,000 and held in belief for neighborhood use. By a freedom of knowledge request, Peter Day, who has been main the marketing campaign, was in a position to pay money for the deeds to the park.

The paperwork, which have been seen by the Observer, present that the world in query was a part of the broader park – moderately than “land adjoining to”, which is how the council describes the world. It was transferred to Shrewsbury city council in 2010 throughout the reorganisation of native authorities.

Throughout the second world struggle, the world was used for the Dig For Victory marketing campaign and became short-term allotments. After that, the world was merely by no means reincorporated again into the principle park and was left to go wild.

In 2019, a judicial evaluation discovered the native authority “didn’t take cheap steps” to ascertain earlier than the sale whether or not the positioning was a part of the recreation floor, which it “very doubtless” was. However, Mrs Justice Lang concluded that the general public rights over the positioning couldn’t be enforced on the developer.

In 2020, exterior auditor PKF Littlejohn Ltd discovered “severe governance failings” within the sale of the general public area. Amanda Spencer, the council’s deputy city clerk, stated Shrewsbury city council takes the matter very significantly. The council arrange an unbiased investigation, led by Michael Redfern QC, into the sale of the land.

Revealed final month, the report makes uncomfortable studying for the council. Redfern discovered “highly effective and irrefutable” proof that the world bought off was all the time a part of the park. He stated the city council “raised the drawbridge and bunkered down”, refusing to interact with residents and looking for sanctuary within the mistaken perception that the world wasn’t a part of the park “past any interval that might presumably be thought to be cheap”.

“We’re unable to remark intimately till we rigorously think about its findings,” Spencer stated. A public assembly is because of be held on Wednesday.

Day says it has been a “David and Goliath” wrestle to get to this stage however the marketing campaign is now greater than them. “Each month, I get emails from teams up and down the nation who’re starting related battles who wish to understand how we’ve bought so far as we’ve,” he says.

“Our case may set a nationwide precedent, a method or one other. Both we lose, and native authorities see that it’s OK to dump parks or sections of parks – or, if we win, councils might rethink plans they should dump related pockets of public land. That’s what is at stake. It’s not nearly our area people any extra.”

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