The City of Durham Trust

Ushaw Moor

The Story of a Recreation Ground

The outworkings of the planning process can sometimes frustrate a legitimate case and well-intentioned cause. A clear example is the Recreation Ground at Ushaw Moor, which some local residents, supported by the Trust, have sought to save from the inexorable advance of the housing scheme known as Huntersgate. Valid, and moral, argument has seemingly counted for little with those who interpret the law.

After housing was first projected for three fields, one of which was the Recreation Ground, the District Authority ignored - and has continued to discount - a public petition against building on the recreation field. (The number of signatures was many times that shown to be in favour in later official consultation.) The Authority then declined to await publication of the Report of the Local Plan Inquiry, held by an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State, before deciding (December 2001) on its planning application to proceed with building on the greenfield site. And, when the Inspector's Report recommended deletion of the site, and rescinding of the planning permission if it had been granted, the Authority simply opted to continue with the project.

A second, accompanying strategy of villagers in their attempt to save the Recreation Ground from bricks and mortar was to seek to register it as a village green. It was first submitted, with all necessary evidence, to the County Authority in May 2000. It took the Authority nearly two years to announce (April 2002) the rejection of the application. All criteria had been satisfied except one, that of 'implied permission'.

However, the outstanding hurdle was seemingly removed when the Law Lords overturned the interpretation of implied permission in their ruling on the Washington case (November 2003). The Ushaw Moor Recreation Ground was therefore immediately resubmitted to the County. Since that time, what may be described as a blanket of prevarication has descended. It took eight months to elicit that the County was seeking advice from Queen's Counsel. When at last received, a year after resubmission, the advice was brief, but emphatic, that it should be rejected because of one failing. - The Recreation Ground, it was alleged, had been fenced off (by the developer) at the time of resubmission, and was therefore ineligible. In fact, the Recreation Ground, as the third of three fields involved, was not fenced off until six months after the resubmission. (Correspondence at the actual time of fencing with the Open Spaces Society, County and developer confirm the date.)

A request to the County to repudiate Counsel's advice and grant village green status is, apparently, too simple. Instead, the developer was asked for his "opinion." After more than two months the county are "still awaiting a reply," after which the Authority proposes to contact Queen's Counsel. Meanwhile, house building continues apace, and there is little doubt that the final planning applications - submitted under the name of Eshwood View on Christmas Eve - will be approved.