A FULL public enquiry may be needed to decide the future of a village green application for a Waunfawr field after councillors unanimously rejected advice from a solicitor that the land was being held for educational purposes.
Solicitors, in a report put before Ceredigion County Council’s Full Council meeting on Thursday, 26 October, found that Erw Goch field had been “acquired and held by the authority for education purposes therefore it is incompatible with becoming a village green.”
An application for the field to become a village green to save the open space for the community was sparked when a joint Wales & West Housing and Ceredigion County Council development of more than 70 homes on the land.
The application prompted Ceredigion County Council, which owns the land, to instruct solicitors to advise on a “statutory incompatibility” defence, saying the land was to be used for educational purposes.
The land was bought by the-then Cardiganshire County Council in June 1965 as a proposed site for a new Ardwyn Grammar School.
After the school was built elsewhere, the now-named Dyfed County Council agreed in 1985 to lease Erw Goch to Ceredigion District Council for use as community playing fields.
Despite the council itself being a part-applicant on a housing development on the site – which currently sits in limbo - it launched its defence to block the village green by claiming the site remains solely for educational purposes.
This was despite an earlier parcel of the same land being used to build the Hafan y Waun care home.
That stance was agreed by the solicitor, who found that “even though there are no formal decision of Cardigan County Council that the land that is the subject of the 1965 conveyance was acquired or appropriated for educational purposes, the acquisition of this land for educational purposes is the obvious inference from the available evidence, “it does not matter whether the Application Land was actually used for educational purposes.
“Rather, what matters is whether it continued to be held for educational purposes.”
The solicitor found that while it “seems to be the case” that the “land is no longer required for educational purposes given there is no longer any intention to deliver a school at that location”, “it does not mean that the purpose for which the land is held as a matter of law has changed.”
Councillors, however, emphatically rejected the solicitor’s argument and unanimously voted against the recommendation.
Faenor ward Cllr John Roberts, whose ward the field sits in, could not be present for the meeting.
In comments read out by Aberaeron county councillor Elizabeth Evans, Cllr Roberts said the issue “must be decided at a public inquiry.”
“Since it was initially bought for the building of the school, which we know was built elsewhere, the authority has changed the use of the land in increments so it is no longer the same size or intended purpose,” he said.
“The first departure was the building of Hafan y Waun, the second was adding the field in to the LDP for 140 homes.
“This indicates that the council had no intention for the land other than for building even though the council maintain it is held for educational use.
“Its original use was lost in its entirety when Penweddig school was built elsewhere.
“Let’s not pretend that Erw Goch field was intended for educational purposes now or in the future.
“If this recommendation is accepted, the field will be repurposed for housing development.
“It is extraordinary there is a planning application pending for a housing development when we are continuing its continued use for education purposes.
“It is my opinion that in an effort to find a resolution to this issue on every side, and in the interests of public justice, this belongs firmly in the realms of a public inquiry.”
Cllr Evans told the meeting that she would feel “morally bankrupt” if she accepted the solicitor’s recommendation and also called for a full public inquiry.
“It’s a unique situation and could be seen by many to use the covenant attached to this land as leverage to oppose the application for a village green,” Cllr Evans said.
“It could be argued that this covenant was compromised many years ago.
“We keep saying that it was bought for educational purposes, but here is no official council record demonstrating that that was the case.
“On the one hand you have a covenant saying it should be for educational purposes only and on the other hand of course you have an outstanding planning application.
“Given everything, I can’t find a way to supporting the opinion.
“The argument is too subjective.
“As councillors we are often reminded of reputational damage to the council, integrity as councillors.
“If I was to support this decision today I would consider myself morally bankrupt because I absolute believe this should be before a public inquiry.”
Llanbadarn county councillor Gareth Davies told the meeting he “doesn’t see it as being fair.”
“There seems to be no covenant on the land for education purposes, just an understanding that that was the case,” he said.
“When the lease was agreed for community field in 1985, the educational purposes of the land was yielded.
“Green spaces must be protected.
“This land is obviously very suitable as a village green.
“The only way to be fair is to have a public inquiry.”
The authority will now “go away and seek further advice”, the meeting heard, with no agreed process after the solicitor’s recommendation was defeated.
Councillors were told that options now include seeking a second opinion form a different barrister, or a full public inquiry.