An attempt by townspeople to protect a cherished open space from major housing development is to go before an independent planning inspector.
More than 500 people have signed a petition against plans to build up to 600 homes on the land known locally as Central Park, north of Station Road in Cramlington, Northumberland.
Last year the Save Our Space (SOS) campaign group submitted an application for the land to be officially designated as a village green, claiming it has been widely used as a recreational resource for more than 20 years.
The move seeks to give the site added protection against the development plans put forward by joint landowners, Persimmon and Bellway Homes. Now Northumberland County Council has decided a public inquiry should be conducted by an independent planning inspector to consider the application.
No date has been set for the hearing yet, but it is expected to last five days and hear submissions from the SOS group, representatives of the developers and other interested parties. The Station Road land has been earmarked for housing development for years, and Persimmon and Bellway Homes have recently been working with the town council on reconfigured proposals.
However, local people regard it as the green heart of the town centre, and have produced evidence backing up their claim that dog walkers, children and young footballers have enjoyed unrestricted recreational access for more than 20 years. A new group, Friends of Cramlington Village Green, was set up last year to complete the registration process.
Pat Heard, who lives in Falmouth Walk and is a leading member of the SOS group, said the announcement of a public inquiry had been widely expected.
“We have already been pulling together people who are prepared to attend the inquiry and give evidence.
“We have got a few people who are giving their expertise free of charge, but we’d obviously like to hear from anyone who can give us some funding towards expert legal and planning help.
“Obviously our village green application has passed all the legal requirements and we remain quite confident and hopeful. We have got so much evidence about the use of the land. Nothing is ever certain, but the local people clearly want this land saved.”
Persimmon and Bellway say the land has always been set aside for housing as part of the wider development of Cramlington, and the scheme will bring economic benefits and help meet a dire need for new housing.
A county council spokeswoman said: “A non-statutory public inquiry, led by an independent inspector, will examine an application to have an area of land north of Station Road, Cramlington registered as a town or village green.
“The inspector will examine the issues, with a view to making a recommendation to the planning, environment and rights of way committee of the council. The decision to hold a public inquiry was taken by the deputy chief executive, Kate Roe, following legal advice, as there are disputes in fact and law.
“It is anticipated the inquiry will take five days. We have now begun the process of appointing an independent inspector and finding a venue.”