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Landowner disputing village green claim at site of public inquiry
The owner of fields earmarked for 170 new homes yesterday told a public inquiry he had never seen any recreational use of them by villagers.
And Adrian Horner, who owns three of the four fields in Derry Hill, Menston, which are the subject of a Village Green status application, told the inquiry he would have prevented people from using the land for the likes of kite-flying and sport if he had seen anyone on them during the past 20 years.
If the application for Village Green status is successful, it would probably stop the new houses being built.
Earlier this year, permission was granted, subject to further agreements, for Barratt Homes to build houses on the land, despite massive objections from people living in the village.
But chartered surveyor Mr Horner, who has lived next to the land since 1974, told the inquiry – being held at Kirklands Community Centre – people only stuck to legal footpaths in the fields and did not use them for other things.
He said he had seen people walking their dogs during the past two decades, but had only ever seen three people stray off the footpath in that time.
“I’ve never seen anybody using the site for kite-flying, games or children playing,” he said.
Asked by Frances Lawley, the barrister acting on behalf of applicant Dr Steve Ellams, why his evidence differed from the previous two days, when more than a dozen villagers said they had used the fields for recreation, Mr Horner said he had not made anything up.
“I can give no explanation,” he added. “I am not one to make and concoct lies.”
The inquiry also heard from John Smith, who has been a tenant farmer on all four fields since 2005.
He said he visited them almost every day, and had rarely seen anybody other than dog walkers on the footpath, and in the past six years had only told “two or three” people to stick to the footpath.
In two previous days of the inquiry, independent inspector David Manley QC – who has visited the site – had heard from several villagers who said they had walked dogs, flown kites, played football and tennis and sledded on the fields for several years.
Among the people to give evidence was Dr Ellams. He said there was enough material from people living in Menston to show the fields have been heavily used by the community to deserve the special status.
“I’ve been very proud to be the front spokesman for the material, and in my opinion, it demonstrates quite clearly there has been a considerable amount of activity in these fields,” he added.
The application is being objected to by Barratt Homes, Adrian, Heather and Richard Horner, who own three fields on the site, and Simon Mason, who owns the fourth.
Under the Commons Act 2006, in order for village green status to be granted, an applicant has to prove a site has been used by residents for at least two decades for recreation, sports and games.
Campaigners are hoping to emulate residents in neighbouring Burley-in-Wharfedale, who saw Burley House Field granted village green status in 2009 following a battle lasting almost a decade and involving three separate public inquiries.
Both sides are expected to make final submissions to the inquiry tomorrow (August 17).