A PUBLIC inquiry to decide whether two hotly-disputed sites on the coast at Beadnell should be awarded village green status opened this week.
It will judge applications made by James Williamson and Peter Gomersall, both members of the Save Beadnell Association, to have areas of land at the Haven, or the Anchorage, and White Rock, or Lady Hole Bay, made village greens, which would prevent development on the sites.
The Beadnell Harbour Fishermen’s Society, which had plans for houses on both sites turned down earlier this year, County Life Homes and a couple who own land at the White Rock site oppose the applications.
Land can be designated as a village green if there have been ‘lawful sports or pastimes’ on it for a period of at least 20 years ‘without force, secrecy or permission’.
The applicants maintain that between 1990 and 2010, the two sites have been used by residents and visitors for a range of activities.
But the Beadnell Harbour Fishermen’s Society states that the areas are former industrial sites used for fishing and no sports or pastimes have ever taken place there.
In her opening statement, Nicola Allan, representing Beadnell Harbour Fishermen’s Society and County Life Homes, said: “In the early 1990s, the Haven was a working fishermen’s area. The fishermen went fishing all year round and they were based at the Haven.
“The fishermen controlled both parcels of land, they were very protective of both sites, particularly the Haven, which was the working site.”
The Fishermen’s Society also feels that the village green applications are a misuse of the legislation to prevent development such as its scheme which was turned down earlier this year and was put forward as a way of raising funds to preserve the harbour.
On Monday, Mr Williamson said that the applications were to prevent development so that the land was still accessible.
In his witness statement, he said: “Initially, the purpose of the Save Beadnell Association was to object to a planning application in relation to the two sites and then it looked at public rights of way and the possibility of registration as village greens.”
Miss Allan asked him whether his application, along with the rights of way applications, were designed to prevent development.
He said both were to stop the development. “If they build houses on the land, we cannot go on the land,” he added.
The applicants had collected evidence questionnaires from 190 people in total for both sites, as well as petitions with several hundred names.
But Miss Allan questioned Mr Williamson about how these had been collected and how pie charts on the land’s usage had been produced.
She was also concerned over whether the respondents and those giving evidence were full-time residents of Beadnell and whether they were registered to vote in the village.
Another issue raised with all five of the witnesses called by the applicant’s barrister Charles Holland on Monday was signs on the land.
Over the years, a number of signs were positioned at various points on the Haven site, with messages such as Private, Keep Out and No Dogs.
Several of the witnesses said they either didn’t remember the signs or ignored the ones that they did see as they had always used the land without being challenged.
The inquiry, taking place at Seahouses Sports and Community Centre, is expected to run until Monday.
By Tuesday evening, 20 witnesses for the applicants had been heard and more were called yesterday.
Witnesses for the objectors were expected to start giving evidence yesterday afternoon.
See next week’s Gazette or the newspaper’s website www.northumberlandgaz ette.co.uk for more.