Extra time called in Cleadon village land battle

Lilian Milne
Lilian Milne

A campaign to save playing fields from possible future development has gone to extra time.

An action group has been given six more weeks to compile further evidence for their fight over land at Oakleigh Gardens, in Cleadon.

A three-day public inquiry ended earlier this month in South Shields, with an inspector ruling residents be allowed to review their case.

Oakleigh Gardens Community Action Group now has until Friday, September 7 to submit any final facts.

The group wants to permanently protect the site, which is mapped out as cricket and football fields at the north-west corner of the village.

Although there are no known development plans, it hopes the land will be granted village green status to make it officially untouchable.

Landowner South Tyneside Council is opposing the bid and claims it has previously tried to stop people accessing the location, essentially removing any public status.

The action group’s Lillian Milne, of Elmsleigh Gardens, Cleadon, said she remained hopeful of victory.

She added: “The inquiry lasted for two-and-a-half days and ultimately the inspector said he still needed to know more.

“He has asked us to go away and look again at our evidence, for which we are having to get some proper legal advice.

“We held our ground well during the inquiry but until the inspector’s further questions are answered, we just don’t know what the outcome will be.

“One minute we seemed to be on the up, the next a little down, but we plan to fight on until the end.”

The inquiry was expected to start in March but was rearranged after the council failed to meet a deadline to submit its evidence to the independent inspector on time.

The action group, which formed in November 2016, claimed cancelation had disrupted the schedules of members, some of whom had taken time off to attend the inquiry.

Members say one of the two fields was highlighted last year in a council planning strategy document, raising fears it may be consumed in a future development scheme.

Their main claim to village green status is that the public has enjoyed free and open access to the site for at least 20 years.

The council has previously asked for proof of the group’s claims, stating as landowner it had made “reasonable attempts” to restrict access to the land.

It says some of the historic usage has taken place “pursuant to consents granted” and “was not as of right”.

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “The inquiry will not be reconvening.

“Any further submissions or evidence from the applicant must be submitted in writing by September 7 to allow the inspector to prepare his final report.”