Bakers win legal row with parish council
PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 July 2010
A PARISH council has been criticised for spending tens of thousands of pounds on a failed legal battle over village green access rights.
Haughley Parish Council spent six years and between £40,000 and £50,000 pursuing the owners of Palmers Bakery for their use of an access track across a patch of ancient open land in the heart of the village, which is just outside Stowmarket.
A bakery was first opened on the village green in 1752 and the Palmer family purchased the business in 1869.
Prompted by “combative” complaints from at least one councillor, the parish authority launched a legal challenge to the use of the access path leading to the rear of the bakery.
Despite receiving advice against continuing with the claim, the council persisted and over several years tried in vain to prove that the long-running baking operation, which has shops in five other locations, was not entitled to use the track for deliveries and collections.
But the Palmers legal team unearthed ancient documents that proved a right of access to the site dating back to 1189AD and in January last year the council finally dropped its claim.
Only now, after a settlement was signed by the Adjudicator of the Chief Land Registrar, can the true cost of the council’s pursuit of the matter be revealed.
As well as coughing up for its own legal expenditure, the council has agreed to pay Palmers £17,000 to cover its costs, although the firm has not sought and will not receive any damages.
Kieron Palmer, who oversees the day-to-day running of the business, said the council had wasted a lot of tax payers’ money on the dispute but he was pleased the row had come to an end.
Mr Palmer, the fifth generation of his family to run the bakery, said: “The biggest thing to say is ‘thank you’ to everybody who has supported us. It has restored our faith in people.
“They (the parish council) have wasted a lot of people’s money and I think those responsible should pay it back, because they were constantly advised not to do it.
“I don’t think they (parish councils) are mature enough to make decisions without allowing their own hang-ups to influence them.”
Alan Shaw, who became chairman of the parish council earlier this year, admitted the money spent on the dispute had “changed nothing” and could have been better spent on village projects.
He said: “I was not involved (with the council) in the start of all this. A lot of our councillors are pleased this is over. I believe and observed there was quite a combative approach to the issue over the years. I think that combativeness would have got in the way. I also believe that it has escalated the cost.
“I estimate it to be about £40,000, £17,000 of which is the settlement of the legal solicitor’s costs occurred by Palmers.”
He said there were “a million and one” things the council could have spent the money on and the total amount wasted was about a year’s precept from the parish’s council tax payers.
He added: “It’s a relief to finish it. Nobody is pleased with the amount that has been spent to effectively change nothing. The village green is still the village green and the track is still a track that serves the bakery. We regret the rather contrary and paradoxical laws we got entangled with. It was a complex mess.”
The council has now written to every home in the historic village to try to explain why it took up the claim and how much it had all cost.
Andrew Stringer, a Suffolk County Councillor representing Haughley, said he was disappointed that the dispute could not have been resolved “over a couple of pints in the pub”.
He said: “The huge sums of money involved - on all sides - could have been spent on amenities for the village and it’s a very painful lesson that it is often better to sort disputes out over a pint in the pub, rather than with solicitors.”