High Court upholds council's refusal to designate Berkshire village green

A High Court judge has dismissed a legal challenge against a Berkshire council's refusal to designate a field as a town or village green, after finding that there was evidence of only "very limited recreational use" of the site by the community.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Local campaigner, Lynn Forbes, has been battling since 2005 to protect Limmerhill Field at Wokingham from the prospect of development.

Wokingham Borough Council refused to officially recognise it as a town or village green in March this year.

The decision followed a lengthy public inquiry in December 2016, presided over by barrister Felicity Thomas.

In a report to the council, Thomas rejected Forbes' claims that local residents had, "as of right", used the field for "lawful sports and pastimes" for at least 20 years.

The field was criss-crossed by worn tracks, used for cycling and blackberry picking, and that suggested there might be rights of way across it.

But that did not mean that local inhabitants had used the whole field for sports and pastimes for the required 20-year period, Thomas said.

There was evidence that locals used the field for "sledging, tobogganing, snowman building and snow play generally" during the winter, Thomas said.

But Thomas said there were "not very many days of snow" during the two decades in question.

Forbes asked the council to reject Thomas's report and recognise the field as a town or village green anyway.

After a public meeting in March, the council refused, but Forbes then challenged the decision at the High Court.

Dismissing the challenge yesterday, Judge Mark Ockelton QC ruled there was nothing wrong with the council's decision.

Thomas had been right to say that, once the tracks were taken out of account, there was evidence of only "very limited recreational use" of the field.

Her conclusion that the field's use on snowy days did not make it a town or village green was "unchallengeable", he added.

The council was entitled to accept Thomas's opinion that the public recreational use of the field had been "minor, infrequent, occasional, or not covering the whole of the land".

Forbes' complaints that the council had failed to give adequate reasons for a procedurally unfair decision were also rejected.

She was ordered to contribute over £9,000 to the legal costs run up by the council and property investor, Monopro Limited, in defending the case.

Forbes v Wokingham Borough Council. Case Number: CO/2651/2018

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