Matlock countryphiles who have been trying to protect the town’s “last” piece of green land have suffered a blow as their latest attempt to keep it away from developers has failed.
After a new application to build over 100 houses on Convent Fields in Matlock, the Asker Lane Action Group made a bid in January to preserve the status of the land as a “village green” even though it is privately owned, and after an independent enquiry on behalf of Derbyshire County Council they have been told the application should be thrown out.
Independent inspector Annabel Graham Paul said the action group “failed to show the neighbourhood is capable of being a neighbourhood for the purposes of the Commons Act 2006”, and that the use of the field has not been “as of right”.
The application was made on the basis that the land had been under public use for the past 20 years, largely for dog walking, although the owners said measures had been taking to prevent people walking on fields where they weren’t supposed to be.
Sister Frederica Britto of the convent told the investigator the land’s maintenance man put up three signs saying “Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, but these were all broken down by residents.
The decision is a huge blow to the residents’ group had huge local support and raised over £3,000 for a barrister to aid their campaign.
Carl Owen, of the Asker Lane Action Group, said previously: “If you can prove that somewhere’s been used by the public for 20 years or more, it can be given to the people and you can’t build on it.”
“The overwhelming factor is to reclaim the outlining character of Matlock and to show these large companies that no means no.”
Pam Wilmot of Asker Lane said after the recommendation, which will go before Derbyshire County Council in July: “We’ve had the inspectors report in now and she’s decided against what we were applying for.
“We fought off the local plan years ago and the and got the land taken down from a priority one to a priority four, and we’ve had two outline planning applications which were both refused.
“The annoying thing is with the village green we proved use for over 20 years but the inspector didn’t think we qualified as a neighborhood – it’s tricky n the eyes of the law because you need to show you have a doctor’s surgery and so on, which is easier in a village setting, so for these reasons we didn’t qualify, so we are a bit dissappointed.
“We’re now waiting to hear the outcome of the planning appeal.
Opponant of the group John Winnard said the move to claim privately-owned land was underhand.
He added: “They found a backdoor route to take control of the fields and I didn’t think that was right.
“The sisters allowed us all free access to the land without any quibbling, they let residents knock down stone walls to gain access to the fields, they’ve been very laid back, so I support them in this because I thought what the residents were doing was immoral.”