Wigwam fight over as inspector quashes public inquiry

THE WIGWAM Lane site in Hucknall
THE WIGWAM Lane site in Hucknall
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THE end of the road has finally been reached in the epic fight to stop new homes being built on Hucknall’s iconic Wigwam Lane playing fields.

A new public inquiry into a bid by campaigners for the land to be given village-green status failed to get off the ground.

The inquiry, scheduled for the Rolls-Royce Leisure Club, Hucknall, was quashed by government inspector David Manley QC, who ruled that there was no justification for the hearing to take place.

The Wigwam Warriors action group was making a second bid for the playing fields to be classified as a village green, which would prevent development of the land and keep it open for recreational space.

The group was formed in 2005 after the Wigwam and the adjoining Grange Farm site were earmarked for more than 800 new homes under Ashfield District Council’s Local Plan.

They launched a high-profile campaign against development of the playing fields, a highlight being a march by 400 people through Hucknall town centre to the site for a symbolic picnic in June 2006.

The campaigners’ protest led to an eight-day public inquiry, held between December 2007 and February 2008, into a previous village-green bid. This hinged on whether the Wigwam had been used informally by the local community ‘as of right’ for the previous 20 years.

Although 50 witnesses gave evidence in support of the Warriors, the David and Goliath fight failed — and Mr Manley ruled that the latest inquiry could not go ahead because no new evidence was being offered, so it would be an ‘abuse of process’.

Leading campaigner, grandmother Vera Malcolm (83), of Leadale Avenue, Hucknall, said she was ‘extremely disappointed’ by the decision.

The campaigners could still take their case to the European Court of Human Rights on grounds of annoyance and hardship caused to neighbouring residents by work carried out on the playing fields.

But Mrs Malcolm said she personally felt the Warriors had now gone as far as they could with their campaign.

People who attended the hearing were stunned by the abrupt way Mr Manley announced his decision. Without pausing at the end of submissions by advocates for the Warriors, Notts County Council and the consortium of developers, he declared: “This inquiry is over.”

One of the building firms involved, Barratt Homes, was given the planning go-ahead by Ashfield District Council in February last year to build 77 new homes on the Wigwam. A spokesman for the company said the delay in construction because of the inquiry was “regrettable” because the scheme included a new primary school and sports pitches.

The Warriors’ hopes of success had been raised by a case in the Supreme Court from 2010 which ruled that people using land without consent of a landowner were no longer classed as trespassing.

The group pointed to a 1938 covenant which stipulated that the land was only to be used for recreation or open space. This document was issued when the former owner of the playing fields, Emily Ada Story, sold the land to Notts County Council. The council went on to sell the land for £5.3 million to the Cofton Group, which later went into administration.

The Warriors argued that residents had not been excluded from use of the land by the county council and, therefore, had the right to regard it as a public area.

But Mr Manley said the issue of the covenant had been taken into consideration at the previous inquiry. He stressed: “We cannot let the same application be made again and again with no new evidence.”

Coun Mick Murphy, a Hucknall Conservative member of the county council, said he was disappointed for Mrs Malcolm and the other Warriors. He added: “They did a marvellous job and put up a real fight — but I think there is now a need to move on.”