Set back for people's park campaigners

CAMPAIGNERS have spoken of their disappointment at losing out in a public inquiry to preserve a popular piece of green space in a market town.

Russell Claydon

CAMPAIGNERS have spoken of their disappointment at losing out in a public inquiry to preserve a popular piece of green space in a market town.

But the People's Park Preservation Society will not give up in their battle to stop housing being built on the land off Waldingfield Road in Sudbury, amid fears their town will turn into a “tarmac jungle”.

Known as People's Park, the area is a haven for dog walkers in the town and a long-running campaign to preserve it for future generations, instead of allowing it to be sold off for houses, has received a massive blow following the conclusion of a public inquiry.

An inspector appointed by Suffolk County Council in September last year has now reported that although there has been widespread use of the NHS-owned site by residents, it has not been legal, 'as of right'.

He has recommended the council's rights of way committee to throw out the application to register the area as a town, or village, green, leaving it open to a planning application for housing.

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Derek Wells, chairman of the People's Park Preservation Society, said: “This is very disappointing news for the town, the residents of Sudbury and the local area who, on this evidence, are likely to use yet another invaluable public open space.

“We might have lost the battle over the registration of People's Park as a village or town green but the war could continue if planning permission is sought which would affect the environmental and recreational status of our town.”

Residents of Sudbury have felt betrayed by the NHS over the issue of the land, technically known as Harp Close Meadow, after it was sold by the town in 1987 to West Suffolk NHS Trust on the understanding it would be used to build a new hospital.

Lord Andrew Phillips, also a member of the campaigning group and president of the Sudbury Preservation Society, said: “We knew it was legally an uphill struggle but there is still everything to fight for in that Suffolk has still got to make up their mind, although I do expect them to follow the views of their inspector.

“Then, of course, the health trust have to apply for planning consent.”

He added: “A lot of people are saying Sudbury must not become a tarmac jungle.”

A Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said: “The independent barrister appointed by the county council to chair the Inquiry has now issued his report. He recommends that the applications be rejected on the grounds that local people accessed the site by climbing gates, breaking fences etc which means use cannot have been “as of right”.

“The next stage is for a report to be put to the rights of way committee to make a final decision, taking into account the Inspector's recommendations.”