Boys win court case in fight for play area

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The Independent Online

Two schoolboys who went to the High Court to stop developers building a row of bungalows on their football field won their fight yesterday to force the council to consider their needs.

Two schoolboys who went to the High Court to stop developers building a row of bungalows on their football field won their fight yesterday to force the council to consider their needs.

Scott Jones, 11, and Tom Howe, 9, of Kingsbury, nearTamworth, Staffordshire, sat silently at the court in London as their legal team argued that North Warwickshire Borough Council's decision to give the scheme planning permission was procedurally flawed and should be quashed.

The boys argued that an area of open land at Kingsbury known as the Green, which is about the size of a football pitch and their regular play area, had been used as a recreation ground by local children for more than 20 years. Their parents backed their claim.

Timothy Corner, appearing for the boys, told Judge Michael Rich that the borough council, which was the local planning authority as well as owner of the land, had given permission in December 1999 for eight two-bedroom bungalows for elderly people to be built on the Green. But it failed to take into account there was an alternative site where the bungalows could have been built, on alittle-used car park.

Mr Corner said: "The permission should be quashed because they didn't follow the correct procedure." He described the playing field as an "oasis" in a heavily built-up area where up to 30 children could play safely, watched by their parents living near by.

The judge agreed that the council had erred in law when it gave permission for the housing development. He said: "I am satisfied that the council made its decision disregarding the availability of an alternative site in the belief that it was bound so to disregard that availability. Accordingly I have come to the conclusion that this decision must be quashed and reconsidered by the council."

But the judge warned that it would be wrong to assume that further consideration would inevitably lead to a refusal of planning permission.

Yesterday's legal action was brought by the boys through their mothers, Vicky Jones and Lynne Howe. Mrs Jones criticised the council for failing properly to take into account the need for a safe environment for children to play, and the fact that the Green was a focal point for developing "community spirit". "We feel the council has failed to consider these needs as well as the need for housing the elderly," she said. The alternative site "would have been more appropriate for building the bungalows as it is nearer to all the local amenities".

After the hearing, Tom described the victory as "really fantastic". Scott said: "I am happy we have got the goal - though it's not the final one. If the council still wants the bungalows we will have to stop them again somehow."

Mrs Jones said: "We are pleased with the result ... we feel justified in bringing this case. We hope now the council will take into consideration in the future all the needs of the community."

Their solicitor, Phil Shiner, of the Birmingham firm Public Interest Lawyers, said: "This case underlines how important it is that local authorities take all relevant matters into account. That means in this case listening properly to the local community."