THE OWNERS of Oakfield Park have challenged residents’ attempts to have the under-threat recreation ground preserved as a public space.
The Heart of England Co-op, which wants to build 62 homes at the site, has objected to campaign group Save Oakfield’s application to Warwickshire County Council (WCC) for the park to be recognised as a Town Green – which would legally protect it if successful.
The Co-Op’s objection challenges whether the Bilton Road recreation ground has been accessed ‘as of right’ – a legal term which means ‘without force, secrecy or permission’ – in the last twenty years.
Save Oakfield spokesman Richard Joy said: “It is not unreasonable to assume that the Co-Op’s objection to the Town Green application indicates that they remain committed to submitting a planning application.
“The moment a planning application is submitted it sends a very clear message to the people of Rugby that their words are meaningless and that they are happy to ignore the needs of the local community if there is a chance they can make a profit from it.”
Although no planning application has been published, the Observer understands that the Co-Op submitted an application late last month but it was rejected on a technicality. A revised application is expected soon.
Campaigners sent over 160 letters to support the Town Green application.
Richard added: “Based on other campaigns elsewhere we felt that 130 in total would represent a well-backed campaign, but as a community we’ve smashed that.
“We’ve always said that the whole process could take as long as a year to come to a conclusion. It is true that events along the way may draw the whole process to a dramatic close. This may be one of those events although it goes without saying that we hope this is not the case.”
The campaign group is taking legal advice and plans to respond to the Co-Op’s objection.
A WCC spokesperson said the Town Green application process could take up to a year until it is resolved.
He added: “A letter has been received from solicitors acting from the Co-Op. We are giving this letter, as with all responses, our full consideration.
“There have been many legal cases across England and Wales over the last few years regarding the meaning of the term ‘as of right’ in the context of village greens. Cases have have had different outcomes depending on the facts of a particular case.”
He also confirmed that the Co-Op could legally challenge any successful Town Green application.
The park was leased by Rugby Borough Council until 2013 when the lease expired.
Last month, Save Oakfield accused the Co-Op of deliberately trying to leave the park to become overgrown to make its development plans more appealing.
The Co-Op had not responded to a request for comment when the Observer went to press.