Campaigners battling to have a green space officially declared a Village Green have been given a date for the public inquiry to decide the issue.
Members of the MERlin campaign group (Medway Ecological Riverine Link) have been fighting for three years to have an area of disused farmland known as Bunyards Farm, on the border between Aylesford and Allington, to be given protected status.
If it is granted Village Green status by the inquiry inspector Annabel Graham Paul, the land would be protected from a proposed development of 435 homes put forward by BDW Trading.
To achieve success, the campaigners must convince the inspector – who is a barrister specialising in planning law – that the public has had unfettered access to the land for at least 20 years.
They have gathered a number of sworn witness statements from those who say they have used the land for activities such as dog-walking and blackberry picking, but the claim is being disputed by the owners, the Andrew Cheale Will Trust, who argue there have been times during the past two decades when the land was fenced off.
The hearing will last for four days starting on Tuesday, March 19. It will be held in the Lecture Theatre in Sessions House in Maidstone and is open to the public.
James Willis, one of the MERlin supporters, has described the inquiry as a “David and Goliath battle” as it is expected that the developer BDW will engage an expensive legal team to fight its side.
To counter this, MERlin is trying to raise £11,000 to employ its own legal experts.
So far only £630 has been collected. Donations can be made via their JustGiving page here.
The campaign has attracted the interest of Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant, who visited Bunyards Farm to see things for herself.
She said: “Protecting our green spaces from inappropriate housing developments and safeguarding our precious environment have always been priorities for me.
“That is why gaining village green status for the field at Bunyards Farm in Allington is a campaign I am very pleased to be supporting.
“If successful, this application will prevent another 435 houses being built in the locality of Hermitage Lane, where it is widely accepted that infrastructure is already under pressure.”
She said: “It will also prevent the advent of contiguous, uninterrupted development between Aylesford and Maidstone.”
Natalie Perry is the sales and marketing director at Barratt David Wilson (BDW) Kent. She said: “We have worked with the landowner to assess the future of the land and its use within the community.
“Permission for recreational access has never been granted by the landowner and therefore BDW believes the application for village green status is not legitimate.
“The proposed housing development will provide much-needed housing for local families, in line with Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s housing targets. Alongside providing housing, Section 106 agreements will see significant contributions towards roadworks, education and community facilities, and social care.”
Stanley Forecast (Con) is one of the ward councillors for the area. He said: “Protecting the green spaces in and around Hermitage Lane has been a priority of mine since being elected in 2021.
“This is the last remaining green space and it is pivotal to mental and physical health as well as preserving our already strained infrastructure.”
Cllr Forecast said: “It is a tough economic climate, but any donations to our legal representation would go a long way to securing village green application.”