Saturday, 16 April 2011
COUNCILLORS may ditch the services of an independent inspector when deciding on town green applications.
In place of using independent legally-trained inspectors to advise on whether a town/village green application, which many Bristolians are using to try to protect their local green space, should be refused or accepted (often involving an oral hearing into contentious evidence), Bristol City Council, who controversially want to flog quite a bit of Bristol's green space, are proposing instead that the decision is based entirely on officer advice, or, in contentious cases, a hearing to be heard by a four person sub-committee of the Public Rights of Way and Green Committee. Fix of fair? I say its a fix - and it cant be fair that the council are both police officer, judge and jury!! Officers and Councillors are not independent - its impossible to separate them from the policies of the council. Decent coverage of this matter by the Evening Post.
...the Green Party believes the council wants to make the changes to "wriggle out" of creating more town greens.
In a statement, the Greens say:
"This proposal to change the procedure may seem obscure but has important implications for protecting Bristol's open spaces.
"We believe the council has about 17 new application for town green status waiting on its books for determination, and if it is intended to use the new procedure, then it is clear from the outset that this is all about saving money and not improving its fairness.
"This proposal is a false economy since the money saved by not employing an independent inspector is likely to be used up very quickly if any applicant makes a challenge to the decision in the High Court."
The Greens believe the new procedure will be open to challenge because:
■ There will be bias because the council itself owns much of the land under application so it is an interested party in the decision;
■ Councillors with their party political pressures will now be making the decision rather than an independent person;
■ The council legal advisers and officers advising on the decisions are directly employed by the council and so will be less likely to decide against its wishes.
Charlie Bolton, Green candidate for Southville, said:
"It's very important for the council's procedures to be fair and any changes must have full consultation."
Gus Hoyt, standing for the Greens in Ashley, said:
"We want decisions on town greens to be taken by legally experienced people and not along party political lines behind closed doors."
The report before councillors says: "In its capacity of registration authority, the city council has to consider objectively and impartially all applications for registration of new greens on their merits, taking account of any objections and of any other relevant considerations.
"Registration as a town or village green is dependent purely upon past use, and not upon future plans."