Open Spaces Society Object to Common Land Swap
Press Release from the Open Spaces Society dates 21 January 2011.
The Open Spaces Society,(1) the top pressure-group for common land, has submitted an objection to Woking Borough Council which is consulting interest groups and local people on plans to swap part of Westfield Common.(2) The intention is to provide an access road to a potential new housing development north of Moor Lane.
Woking Council wanted to deregister 387 square metres of the common. It is wet woodland and a Site of Nature Conservation Interest. The plan to exchange common land was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate, following a public inquiry last year. Now Woking Council has revived its plans offering an additional area of land in exchange as a sweetener, the two sites totalling954 square metres. The Open Spaces Society, the Westfield Common Residents’ Association and many local residents have objected.
Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘We do not consider that the public is gaining anything from this proposed swap.
‘The council is offering two areas of common land in exchange for the chunk being taken. The first is almost identical to the original proposal which was rejected partly because it was inferior for nature conservation. The council now claims that it will comply with a management plan recommended by the Surrey Wildlife Trust to improve the nature conservation of this site. However, there is no guarantee that this improvement will actually happen.
‘The second area of exchange land, immediately to the east of the pond at Willow Bank, may well already be registered common land. We understand that it was scheduled for development some years ago, but we are not aware that it has been deregistered.
‘If it is still common land, clearly it cannot be offered in exchange. If it is not common land, it is still of little benefit because people already use it freely. It’s a recreation ground and is crossed by a public footpath. It is treated as a public open space.
‘We are dismayed that Woking Council seems set on allowing use of part of Westfield Common for development. Our commons are of vital importance, for their history as well as their landscape, recreational and wildlife value. Walkers and riders have the rights to enjoy the whole of Westfield Common, and we feel this special land should be protected, not frittered away for development.
Notes for editors
1. The Open Spaces Society (formally the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society) was founded in 1865 and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body. It campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them.
2. Common land is land subject to rights of common, to graze animals or collect wood for instance, or waste land of the manor not subject to rights. There are approximately 1.3 million acres of common land in England and Wales. The public has the right to walk on all commons and the right to ride on Westfield Common, among others.
All common land is shown on registers, held by the county councils. If someone wants to remove the land from the register they must follow a legal process, which includes advertisement and the opportunity for the public to object. An application under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006 for the deregistration and exchange of common land is made to the Planning Inspectorate, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who must have regard to the interests of persons having rights on the land which is proposed to be taken, the interests of the neighbourhood and the public interest.