Hambledowners lose application for Village Green on 2-1 vote

Last night's General Purposes Committee was a packed house, as residents gathered for the hearing on the application for Village Green status for Hambledown Green on the Avery Hill Estate.

 Almost 500 residents living in both Greenwich and Bexley had shown their support through written and oral evidence, petitions and letters of support, highlighting the value they place on the Green for recreational purposes.

 The situation was complicated as Greenwich Council, as well as being the decision maker on the Village Green status, is also the landowner of Hambledown Green, and it was in this capacity that the Council submitted a formal objection to the resident’s application.

 This led to the rather strange situation of council officers and legal representatives arguing against the resident’s application in front of the committee, which was supported by another legal team from the council.

 The council’s case rested on the fact that the residents could not define themselves as a cohesive “locality”, which is required by the legislation, as residents lived either side of the borough boundary with Bexley. 

 It was disappointing that the council's arguments rested on what appeared to be narrow interpretations of what it meant for a local community to exist, with one officer suggesting that a locality could not exist, because ‘officers did not recognise it’ and ‘it was not a clearly defined area, such as a Cleansweep area’ – heaven forbid that we speak to our neighbours if they’re not in our designated Cleansweep area!

 This was despite residents from both boroughs speaking passionately about how they valued the area, worked together to clean up the Green, held street parties, took their children to play and met with their neighbours (whatever side of the boundary). 

Cllr Eileen Glover represented the residents in putting forward their case, together with Mrs Sharon Haydon and Eltham South councillors, Adam Thomas and Matt Clare spoke to support residents in their application and urged the 3 member committee to allow the application to go to a non-statutory inquiry, which would allow an Independent Planning Inspector to test the evidence put forward by both parties.

This was supported by Eltham North Councillor Nigel Fletcher, who felt that all the evidence needed to be tested by the Inspector, with full cross examination of witnesses.  However the two Labour members of the Committee, Peter Brooks (Deputy Leader of the Council) and Ray Walker  (Labour's Chief Whip), felt that this was not necessary and followed the council’s recommendation to reject the application.

A somewhat odd situation, given that the council were the objectors and officers had also provided the recommendation to councillors on the Committee to reject the application.  It was therefore very disappointing that the Committee decided not to involve the Independent Inspector, who would have been able to test the evidence and provide further advice to councillors making the final decision.