6 October 2011

Village Green Claim Halts £22 Million New Academy

A new £22 million Academy is under threat as a result of a ‘village green’ claim.

Three local politicians have been prominent in recent efforts to try to get a town or village green claim approved, which would have the effect of stopping the planned new education facilities.  The location of this claim is some council-owned land at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

Councillor Ken Williams (pictured), Jim Jefferson a former councillor, and Cllr Ray Guselli have been using the village green laws in a bid to stop a new £22 million academy from being built where it received planning approval.

At the expensive public inquiry which was made necessary because of this claim, Mr Vivian Chapman QC, highly respected legal expert in town and village green law, said:
"It has been apparent before and during the course of the public inquiry that the purpose of this town and village green application is to block the democratic decision, with planning approval, to build a new academy building on the school grounds.
"A £22.5 million central government grant for the construction of the new building will be imperilled if the application succeeds."
Towards the end of the hearings, concerning the rules of the public inquiry, Mr Chapman said:
"Mr Jefferson and Mr Guselli claim to be simple folk unable to understand the directions.  On the contrary... they are clearly intelligent and astute local politicians who understood the directions perfectly well.
"They adopted a deliberate tactic of ignoring the directions and ambushing the objectors (to the village green claim) by withholding much of their evidence until after the start of the public inquiry."
Cllr Williams is reported in the local press as denying this, and stating that he feared 'legal technicalities' could end up settling the case.  In other words, the fear was that that 'legal technicalities' could end up delivering new educational facilities for the local kids.

Cllr Ray Guselli has been kind enough to furnish us with pictures of the claimed site and he has been in touch to point out that in his opinion our portrayal of this case is one-sided.  This criticism is accepted: the purpose of The Campaign for Real Village Greens is to bring an end to modern abuses of the traditional village green legislation, which is now being used on occasions like this to supplant the entire planning regime, and to stop much-needed local facilities or homes.

Following Cllr Guselli’s detailed comments to CRVG about this case, we fully accept that under village green law as it now stands the three men were entitled to support the claim that was made.  The Campaign's position is that the legislation must be reformed urgently.  This is so that genuine, real, traditional village greens are protected, and this kind of modern claim that a third party’s land is somehow a ‘village green’ must be rendered impossible in the future.

Cllr Guselli also wishes to remind all parties that Vivian Chapman QC's sole purpose in this matter is to win his case for his client.

Furness Academy's website provides the following description of its offer for local young people and its hopes for the future: 
Furness Academy is situated in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria on the edge of the Lake District.  The Academy is located on two campuses – North and South – and is scheduled to move into a state-of-the-art new building in 2013.
Furness Academy is one of the few academies in the country that boasts only educational sponsors, and everything we do is about driving up educational standards and ensuring that students aim for their personal best.
Although only established for two years, the Academy is quickly establishing a reputation as an institution which has at its heart a sense of ambition and determination to deliver outstanding teaching and learning.
The existing school at the centre of the dispute, with some of the claimed land in the foreground.  This is one of the extensive array of photos produced to the inquiry:

Right of Reply: the following email has been received from Ray Guselli, referred to in the article:

After extensive correspondence with the Editor I had hoped that the inaccuracies within this article might have been corrected.
I clarified that Mr Jefferson was no longer a Councillor; yet the article continues to refer to 3 Politicians.
I made clear that, having taken legal advice, it was confirmed to and accepted by the Inquiry that my interest was not as a Councillor, but solely as an individual. The Chair recognised that position; the objector's QC is even quoted in the blog as referring to Mr Guselli, not Councillor Guselli, whereas sadly, Steve believes that once a Councillor, always a Councillor....Not so.
The Editor also follows the emotive route of suggesting that the intent of the applicant was to stop the new build Academy, thus affecting children's education, that is of course nonsense. Furthermore, he does not explain that the alternative position of the new build as proposed by the applicant, is actually supported by the Former Deputy Head and the Principal and would ironically enhance the facilities and space available to the school.
Mr Chapman's comments are noted but there was no intent to ambush the Inquiry with late evidence; simply that we provided it right until the very last day as new evidence emerged.
Of course Mr Chapman is there to win, as was his accompanying solicitor and solicitors from Liverpool.
Mr Jefferson on the other hand made the application and was supported by Mr Guselli as a McKenzie's friend until his collapse on the first day of the Inquiry prevented him from continuing.
I note the promotional comments from the Academy which opened its doors in 2009 and its first set of results were below the national average - only 33% passed five GCSEs - the target is 46%. Councillors called for an immediate Ofsted inspection of Furness Academy following the poor GCSE results.
I am delighted that this year's results show an improvement which must be sustained and grow.
We fully support the Academy but brought this application not to stop its progress, but to protect the greenfields used by generations for the purpose they were purchased in 1922, as an extension to the public park. Ironically, designation as a village green would provide the Academy with the space it needs for its sports based curriculum and speciality; however, through the current arrangements the County Council will retain a vast expanse of land that may at some future date be sold off.
Whilst we appreciate the sentiments of the CRVG blog, this application does not fall into the CRVG's stated purpose. If it has to remain, we are happy to provide a more accurate description of events than portrayed and may be contacted by email to r.guselli48@btinternet.com.