The Grounds 2013

Highbury CC May 2013

Highbury CC May 2013

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    An open letter to the Meanwood and Highbury communities and also to anyone who has or continues to enjoy use of the space known as Highbury Cricket Club, Meanwood, Leeds.

    Recent events have resulted in the fencing off of the land previously occupied by Highbury Cricket Club. These events display some correlation towards a change in use of the land. Travellers were evicted, quite decisively and effectively, from the land in 2012 and a perimeter fence was erected in the Spring of 2013. Subsequent to the perimeter fence an additional partition fence has been erected on the site by the tenant who now has sole use of the land, currently being used as a paddock for the horse shown in this picture. Meanwhile the national backdrop to these events include demands for new housing and changes to the National Planning Policy Framework which some commentators see as a deregulation of the building industry in England.

    One narrative for this story could be that the eviction has aroused the awareness of the owners of the land, thought to be a property development company, who are taking a new look at their asset in the light of these national policy changes. The land owner could now be seeking to realize the maximum financial value of the land by building new houses on it, although this part of the story is unsubstantiated at this time. Other narratives for the erection of the perimeter fence include prevention of further trespass or personal injury from the dilapidating club house shown in the background of this picture.

    It is unclear at this point who the actual owners of the land are and qualifying ownership should be the first action. Getting the land owners to disclose their motivation and purpose for erecting the perimeter fence should be the second action with a complementary enquiry into their future intentions for the land. This should also be supported by a diligent and conclusive disclosure by the Council of any submitted planning application affecting the land.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that the land is unsuitable for building on and stories have been told of sewage pipes running under the previous cricket pitch, protected trees, limited road access as well as the land being zoned as high risk of flooding. These shouldn’t however be taken as guarantees that building couldn’t go ahead but simply problems to be solved by anyone wishing to develop the land, after all if the owners are property developers they own it for a reason.

    It is also unclear how the status of the cricket club affects any intention to build on the land. If for example the club was still actively engaged in regular competitive and fun matches would there be any legal challenge from any party to change the use of the land? Qualifying this point may seem a little retrospective as the cricket club is not in use but qualifying what obligations exist for the present owners is important. For example there is a common understanding that a covenant exists but the details of which are currently unclear, there is also the question of whether there is a public right of way through the land and which has now been disrupted.

    What is apparent is that whatever the motivations of the owners these recent events have provoked the local community to reassess the status quo and to actively pursue a more meaningful social, environmental and economic use of the land. Given the evidence of recent attempts by both the school and residents to engage the owners, it is hard to see that anything short of securing land ownership by a local community concern will reach these goals.

    Perhaps if the anecdotal evidence of the problems with building on the land can be substantiated and supported by a genuine no-build position by the Council there is a chance that ownership could be exchanged for a reasonable consideration. Or if there are legal challenges to a change in land use based for example on obligations on the owners then this too may persuade them to right down and dispose of the asset.

    Anticipating these events should start now and a strong vision and implementation plan should be devised with input from all concerned parties. Questions such as what to use the land for, how to restore the dilapidating club house, how to pay for refurbishment and on-going management costs, what legal entity should own the land all must be answered in anticipation of the owners best-case analysis being to dispose of the land. I have heard anecdotally that the land is too small for a cricket pitch and sixes uses to be counted as fours, so is its best used as a cricket club? Although if the crease really is genuine Australian Test match soil, as is claimed, then this should not be ignored.

    On-line forums and social media should be used to establish single points of truth about the various aspects of this situation and to focus the energies of the community and its leaders towards realizing the vision and executing the plan. An accurate chronology of events is extremely effective at highlighting the real issues. There may well be several paths that people want to take such as using the Olympic legacy or the National Planning Policy Framework as vehicles to achieve the goals and these must be co-ordinated so as not to undermine each other.

    Building new houses on this land may well create new jobs and revenue for the local economy and offer some people better accommodation options than perhaps currently exist. It most certainly will create monetary wealth for a few individuals. It is hard to see any environmental benefits though from concreting over yet another albeit small piece of England’s green and pleasant land. Although perhaps a social benefit may be that the new occupiers become friends or even family over time.

    Below is a summary of the questions that need answering before the Council next presents itself. I would encourage anyone concerned by these issues to consider what would be the most meaningful social, environmental and economic use of the land for the broadest range of users.

    Questions that need immediate answers;
    1. Who owns the land
    2. What proof of ownership exists
    3. What obligations exist for the owners
    4. Why was the fence erected and is it legal to do so
    5. What are the owners future intentions for the land
    6. What legal rights does the community have or could it pursue
    7. How can a local concern secure ownership of the land

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