Claims leave taxpayers facing bill for millions

VILLAGE green applications on the north Northumberland coast have been highlighted as national council leaders warned that vexatious claims are costing taxpayers millions of pounds.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils nationwide, is calling on the Government to give councils more powers to tackle ‘malicious, vexatious and incomplete proposals at an early stage in the process’, in response to a Government consultation on village greens.

This means allowing councils to quickly identify frivolous claims, with the ability to claim back costs from these applications.

The LGA would also like an end to the situation where a village green application can even delay developments which have planning permission and have begun building work. The Government has proposed closing this loophole, which has the support of the LGA.

It points out three recent examples across the country including the applications in Beadnell where a decision is expected in the new year following the six-day inquiry in November.

The Haven and White Rock sites in the village were the subject of plans for three new four-bedroom homes by the Beadnell Harbour Fishermen’s Society, who put forward an ‘exceptional case’ that money is needed to preserve the harbour and pay for its upkeep.

The original plans were thrown out by the county council’s planning committee in May against the planning officer’s recommendations, but amended plans were resubmitted last month.

The Save Beadnell Association has vigorously opposed the scheme and lodged both village green and rights of way applications on the sites, which the Fishermen’s Society maintain are former industrial sites.

There are legitimate ways in which people can have their say on development through the planning system and this is the approach that they should look to take, according to the LGA.

The Government is reforming the planning system which should increase local decision making on development further by allowing them to develop their own local plans.

Coun David Parsons, chairman of the LGA Environment and Housing Board, said: “Councils are keen to protect genuine village greens and community land in their neighbourhoods. However, the idea that a beach hut or car park constitutes a village green is clearly ridiculous.

“The right balance needs to be reached between looking after genuine village greens and the provision of affordable housing, services and jobs which local areas badly need. Councils are reliable and can be trusted to perform this function effectively.

“Unfortunately, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are currently being spent by councils processing ‘village green’ applications whose primary aim is to prevent development.

“Councils are ready to transform and regenerate local areas, but these long delays are preventing job growth and new affordable housing in our local communities.

“The LGA is glad the Government is consulting on this and hope they take on board the concerns of councils. It is important that councils are given reasonable powers to quickly identify false applications and claim back the costs from these.”