March 17th, 2021
Why do we do this?? By Patricia Strack of the Woodcock Hill Village Green Society
Woodcock Hill Village Green is green belt land and has a wildness about it. It is to the north of Barnet Lane, Borehamwood Herts. Proposals were first mooted for housing development in 1996 over Woodcock Hill. This land had been used by Borehamwood residents for recreation, peace and tranquillity from time immemorial, no one could remember a time when it wasn’t. The steep north facing slopes with flat land at the bottom, very important ecologically. Peace and tranquillity provided for wildlife and people. All this is threatened – read on to find out more on the application by Taylor Wimpy to deregister this 25 year old Village Green.
Around the proposals for development in 1996 a community committee was formed, Woodcock Hill Open Space 4 Ever. We sought help from the Environmental Law Foundation. Funds were raised, support and signatures collected. An ELF solicitor represented us initially, pro bono, then we were directed to Earthrights. Evidence of use ‘as of right’ over 20 years from 1976 produced. A public inquiry was held and our barrister convinced the inspector that Taylor Wimpey was making false representations about fenced land. The Village Green was saved by tales of “Donkey Dave”. He was prosecuted for not tending the donkeys and horses he had tethered on Woodcock Hill: no fences you see. In 2008 village green status was granted and Woodcock Hill Village Green Committee formed. Herts Countryside Management Services supported us with a Management Plan and organised monthly working parties. Since that time we have loved and looked after the land, have worked to increase its biodiversity with notable successes, dug ponds and planted trees. We have gathered together for festivals and community heritage events. Woodcock Hill it is not untrue to say is in our soul.
Jump forward over 20 years from the village green being registered to 2019 and we were made aware for the first time that Taylor Wimpy who still own the land were proposing 110 homes for the Hertsmere Local Plan. In July 2020, on the first day of lockdown Taylor Wimpey started procedures to replace part of the Village Green with replacement, “exchange land” in Elstree. The law says that any replacement land that is proposed under the process of de-registration of a village green, has to be equal to the land to be de-registered. The “exchange land” for Woodcock Hill runs over a railway tunnel, to grazed land accessed by steep hills. This land is further away from the original beneficiaries Borehamwood residents, is poorer ecologically and beside a noisy and busy road. We consider it in no way represents an equal exchange and we have mobilised our community to say this to the Planning Inspectorate with hundreds of objections having been made. Residents have fought hard to convince the Secretary of State that the replacement land is inferior ecologically and their proposals for a rural park unacceptable for Borehamwood.
Last week we were alerted by our friends at the Open Spaces Society (OSS) that PINS had decided to hold the inquiry by written representations alone, . with no reference to the community. With help from ELF we immediately wrote to PINS insisting that this was a controversial application locally, with contested evidence that could only be examined through an oral hearing. ELF knows through its experience that a community will have a much better opportunity to properly participate in the decision making through a hearing process.