Today in Portsmouth The Ranger was on his way to look at some nice shingle dunes when he saw a remarkable sign at the roadside, and had to ask his host to stop the car so it could be examined. A small parcel of land was surrounded by a new wooden fence, and prominently placed at two locations were some massive, highways style metal signs with some rather curious text on them – here’s one:
Not the usual sort of thing one might expect, brand new, and rather strangely worded. Why was such a lot of money spent on such odd, over-specified signs? And that turn of words ‘sports and pastimes’… sounds familiar? It should do. Behind this simple phrase on a sign lies a big story. Let’s see if we can root it out. A bit of digging on the Portsmouth City Council website reveals that on 23/02/2004 there was a planning application for “Construction of 2 three storey blocks and 3 four storey blocks comprising 176 apartments”. The area included the site now sporting the new signs. Reading between the lines, this got the locals a bit riled. Perhaps they didn’t want their little triangle of land to be built upon. Perhaps they liked the few trees on it, and enjoyed walking their dogs across it. Perhaps they’d been doing this for a while, and thought maybe they had a right to do so. Anyway, for whatever reason the planning application was refused on 01/12/2004. The locals must have been pleased. However, it was not over. The applicants lodged an appeal the following February. During this time the local people must have got the idea that they might be able to frustrate the development on that triangle of land by registering it as a village green. Land can be registered as a town or village green if it has been used by local people for’lawful sports and pastimes’ (ie informal recreation) for 20 years freely and openly. Recognise that phrase, ‘sports and pastimes’? that’s the wording on the sign. So they got together an application for this bit of land and, apparently, two other bits. This application went in to the Council before the appeal was decided. How did they fare? A little while later we find a meeting of the General Purposes Committee held on Monday 19 September 2005. It decided the following item:
Applications for Registration as a Town or Village Green “Land in and around Halliday Crescent, Driftwood Gardens and Henderson Road, Eastney (‘Eastney Village Green’, ‘Halliday Green’, ‘Henderson Green’ and ‘Eastney Green’)
The Village Green application was refused, on the advice on an independent inspector. The Ranger guesses that about this time the signs and fences went up. The wording of the sign, whilst a little legalistic and bombastic, is designed to allow people to use the site, but not to accrue a right to claim it as a village green in the future. So presumably Portsmouth intend to use the site for something else in due course, but credit to them for not closing the whole thing off with Heras fencing, which must have been a strong temptation, and is often the response of landowners when faced with a village green claim. The latest chapter in this fascinating tale came to a close earlier this month, nearly three years since the original application and nearly two years since the appeal was lodged. The appeal was allowed on 4/01/2007, meaning that the development could go ahead.
Update: In 2007, when this article was first written, Portsmouth’s online planning system did not allow The Ranger to retrieve the details of the appeal decision, so it wasn’t clear what was now to become of the area claimed unsuccessfully as village green. I wrote “Either it will be built upon, or, just maybe, kept as a public open space as a part of the new development”. I am pleased to report that a new application has been submitted in 2011, covering a larger area including the disputed site, and includes the vast majority of the green area as open space (similar to the 2004 application, in fact). Indeed, the application – with a perfectly straight face – suggests that “Existing fencing will be removed from around the proposed village green area”. Yes, that fencing that we erected to prevent you claiming the land as a village green and stopping us developing it. Well, never mind – assuming the application is successful, it seems as though it’s a planning story with a happy ending, for once. (This article is an update of one first published in 2007)