FAMILIES fighting to protect a cherished open space from the threat of major housing development are bidding to have it officially classified as a village green.
Campaigners in Cramlington are preparing an application to secure village green status for the land north of Station Road, which is known locally as Central Park and is regarded as the green heart of the town centre.
The move aims to give the site long- term protection against controversial plans by joint landowners Persimmon and Bellway Homes to build up to 600 houses, some shops and sporting facilities on it.
The application for village green designation will be made to Northumberland County Council under the Commons Act 2006 by Cramlington SOS (Save Our Space), a residents’ group which was set up in March to oppose the two companies’ development plans.
The group is now collecting evidence in a bid to prove that local people – including dog walkers, children and young footballers – have enjoyed unrestricted recreational access to the land for more than 20 years.
It has set up a new group, Friends of Cramlington Village Green, to complete the registration process.
Persimmon and Bellway have been working with Cramlington Town Council on reconfiguring a planning application which has been in the system for several years to develop the Station Road land.
The partners say the site has been earmarked for housing for many years, and the scheme would bring economic benefits and help meet a dire need for housing in the town.
However, more than 500 people have signed a Cramlington SOS petition opposing the loss of the land, and anger erupted earlier this year when contractors moved in to carry out extensive tree felling and landscaping work.
Yesterday leading SOS member Pat Heard, who has lived in Falmouth Walk, next to Central Park, for 29 years, said seeking village green status was now seen as the best way of safeguarding the site.
She said there are rights of way across the land, which has been unfenced and used for decades by playing children, young footballers, dog walkers, bike riders, kite flyers and others.
“Almost since we were formed we have been working behind the scenes on this, and when we announced that we are going to seek village green status at a residents’ meeting last week, people were over the moon and very supportive.”
She added: “We are putting together all the information we need and collecting evidence forms from residents on how they have used the land.
“If we are successful in having it declared a village green, it can never be developed and is protected forever.
“We expect to make the application in mid-July and the response we have had sent sending letters out has been unbelievable.”
Last night Bellway corporate affairs manager Julian Kenyon, said: “It is disappointing that people are pre-empting the consultation process on land that has always been set aside for development as part of the larger development of the town. The proposals will include residential, commercial, open space and playing provision.”
Peter Jordan, Persimmon Homes planning and project director, said: ”Village green status has to be proved and the residents will have to have substantive evidence to do that. We will just have to wait and see their case when it comes forward.”