Public inquiry over village green scheme

Duffield meadows playing fields
Duffield meadows playing fields

two schools in Duffield are fighting a move to allow their playing field to become a village green too.

Ecclesbourne School and Duffield Meadows Primary School have voiced their disapproval following the start of an inquiry into whether the public should be allowed to use the school-owned playing field.

The land on Meadow Vale is jointly-owned by Ecclesbourne and Derbyshire County Council and is next to the primary school. But there is a dispute over what the land should be used for.

In 2008, resident Luke Heaton, who is founder of the Duffield Village Forum, submitted a village green application.

Supporters of the application said the schools tolerated and sometimes encouraged public use of the fields.

But the schools claimed this was not the case, insisting that any “incursions” on to the fields should be regarded as trespass and that they have not tolerated public use of the area as a village green.

In a joint statement, Ecclesbourne headteacher Lesley Underhill and Duffield Meadows head Chris Watkins said: “As part of our duty to safeguard pupils, we are required by law to have robust procedures for monitoring and recording access to school sites by adults.

“Clearly it would be impossible to discharge this duty if the school playing fields were an open-access village green.

“At present some organisations seek and gain permission to use our fields in order to carry out legitimate activities and to hold events.

“Any other users have trespassed on land that they know belongs to the schools.”

Around 60 witnesses are expected to give evidence at the public inquiry, which started last week and is being held at the Duffield Parish Council meeting hall on Hazlewood Road.

The applicant is required to prove that the land, which he claims to have been used for recreation by the public for 20 years, has been used for organised games and activities.

Emma Dring, representing the applicant, said that was the case, with dog walking and football particularly prevalent.

But Mrs Underhill hit back and said: “The idea that our school playing fields should become a village green seems to me to fly in the face of common sense.”

Mr Watkins added: “For these grounds to become a public village green, right on our back-doorstep, in the midst of the children’s play and sports area, is unthinkable for us and a very worrying prospect.”

The inquiry is expected to last at least a week in front of a Government planning inspector, who will make the final decision on the scheme..