Church land decision expected in January

Bury Times: The field at the centre of the dispute The field at the centre of the dispute

Campaigners will have to wait until early next year to learn whether a patch of land in Walmersley will be declared a village green.

A public inquiry, which ran for two days at the Fusilier Museum, sought to determine whether land at Springside Road, next to Christ Church Walmersley, has been used “for lawful sports and pastimes” over the past 20 years.

The inquiry’s indep-endent inspector, Alan Evans, will now compile a report on the issue, ready for publication in January.

However, the decision will lie in the hands of Bury Council, following receipt of Mr Evans’ recomm-endations.

Friends of Walmersley Village (FOWV) applied to Bury Council for the land to be designated as a village green to protect the land from being considered for the building of 44 homes.

However, Christ Church oppose village green status, after it was revealed in March, 2012, that the land could be sold for £1.1 million, which would help to upgrade the church and provide a community facility.

Throughout the course of the inquiry, a packed public gallery heard from a number of different witnesses, who were questioned by lawyers representing FOWV and the parochial parish council (PCC) of Christ Church Walmersley.

On the second day of the hearing, Nigel Sylvester, who was a member of the PCC on several occasions over 30 years, told how he challenged a number of dog walkers using the field, and his comments were often ignored or were the subject of abuse.

Mr Sylvester said that, generally, the people he confronted believed they were entitled to be on the land.

In his closing statement, lawyer David Mandy, representing Christ Church, said the events which took place in the church were not aimed at the wider general public, and denied that the area represented a cohesive neighbourhood.

He said: “The concept of Springside estate is a fiction; there is no evidence that the area has historically had any general use or recognition by the people of Walmersley. The so-called neighbourhood is no more than a part of Walmersley.”

Mr Mandy also accused FOWV of providing suggested answers, and “coaching” responses from residents for a number of questionnaires which were used as part of the village green application.

He said that Christ Church had made it clear on a number of occasions in the past 20 years that dog- walking was prohibited.

Lawyer Ruth Stockley, representing FOWV, said in her closing address, there was no requirement for an area to have amenities such as a pub, a doctors or a shop to be classed as a neighbourhood, and that the Springside estate is a “close-knit” community.

She said: “It is a community where people tend to know each other and stop to chat and help each other out.”

She also said that signs erected by Christ Church prohibiting dog walking on the land were ambiguous, and were taken down before the community could acknowledge the information.

Miss Stockley questioned the extent to which the community knew about measures taken by the church to dissuade people using it, saying that the parish magazine had a limited readership and that there was no reference to dog-walking in a 2003 flyer.

Claims made by Mr Mandy, that answers to questionnaires were not independently provided, were also denied by Miss Stockley. She said: “The applicant has given credible evidence, and they reject any suggestion that their evidence has been concocted or coached.”

FOWV also say Christ Church has rejected several plans which would permit development on some of the field, which would generating the finances required, but still save an area of it.

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