The land at Meadow Way, Hawks Green, had previously been maintained by Cannock Chase Council – but it was later found the authority had never acquired it from the builders of the housing estate.
Alistair Moore, who has used the land to extend the garden at his family home, told a council planning committee meeting he had been unaware of any issues when he bought the land from Taylor Wimpey. He added that he had not realised he must apply for permission for change of use from open space to private garden.
Several residents objected to the land being fenced off and said the change of use would result in the loss of a public open space – as well as setting a precedent for other homeowners to do the same.
Heath Hayes and Wimblebury Parish Council opposed the installation of a shed on the land and the new fencing, which was feared would create a closed-in effect on the alleyway and make it feel dark and unsafe to walk down.
Resident Wesley King told the committee the estate had been built in the mid-1980s to include open spaces.
He added: “The land in this application should remain as landscaped recreational space for the benefit of the community as it has been for the last 35 years. It will set a precedent and could lead to the death of some green walkways, which will be against the wishes of the original developer.”
Fellow objector Lucy Hales spoke of how the estate’s green spaces and paths had helped support residents’ mental and physical health during the national lockdowns to combat coronavirus earlier this year. “The local community really do value what is on their doorstep during this period of crisis”, she said.
Councillor Phil Hewitt, who represents the Hawks Green ward, said that Mr Moore had bought the land legally and he had no objections to that. But he was worried about the future of similar areas in the estate.
He said: “My long term concern is that we have got these footpaths everywhere and we start losing them. Long term the council needs to look at this and see where the pockets of land are.
“When developing this big area of housing they put terrific forethought in – they made it into what would be described as a garden estate. When you go onto Hawks Green you don’t realise until it’s pointed out the high level of trees and grassland that makes it a place where people want to come and live.
“The plans laid out quite a lot of footpaths that interlink through Hawks Green. The problem is 35 years ago the council should have made sure the land couldn’t be taken into other areas. It should have been made safe but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
The meeting heard that the new fence was allowed under permitted development rights.
Mr Moore said: “Myself and my wife are not builders or property developers. We are joint owners of the house and we have lived here with our two children since March 2016. We hope to live here for many years.
“I understand our application has been described as selfish and underhand but I would like to assure you that was never the case. We believe what we did was honest, above board and within the law.
“There were no restrictions or covenants on the land. Never at any times during our talks with Taylor Wimpey was there any suggestion a planning application would be required before we could reposition the boundary fence. If we had been aware planning was a requirement we wouldn’t have carried out any works before planning consent was received.
“We’re a hard-working family with two young children and we were offered an opportunity to increase the size of our garden.”
Committee members allowed the land to become private garden space, with 12 votes in favour of approving the change of use and three against. A number of councillors who voted to approve the application said they did so reluctantly however.
Councillor Doug Smith said: “I have empathy with both sides here. Mr Moore has done things it would appear in good faith. But I also understand public open spaces are at a premium and we need to protect them.”
Councillor Paul Witton said: “I don’t think he has done anything wrong and it would be wrong to see him punished through no fault of his own."
Councillor Martyn Buttery said: “I’m sat on the fence looking at this. I’m struggling because Mr Moore hasn’t done anything wrong. What he has done is highlight a major issue we can now rectify so issues like this can’t come up in the future and erode these pathways.”