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Fence separates sides in land row





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Access for community groups and clubs to the all-weather sports pitch at the Minster School, Southwell, could be delayed. CAROLINE BOYD reports on the dispute between Southwell Rugby Club and Nottinghamshire County Council
that centres on the ownership of a small piece of land.

A dispute over the ownership of a small piece of land is threatening to affect the education of pupils at the Minster School.

Southwell Rugby Club and Nottinghamshire County Council both claim to own land on which a road was laid to provide the school with access to its new all-weather sports pitch and to enable a local farmer, Mr Don Butler, to reach his fields.

The rugby club has erected a fence over part of the road which it says marks its boundaries.

The club said it was left with no choice after an agreement it thought had been reached with the council over the land fell through.

The fence prevents the school from maintaining its pitch and has stopped Mr Butler from reaching his fields.

Mr Butler, who supports the rugby club’s claim, said on Monday that he had applied for an injunction against the council to reinstate the road where it should be. He did not want to comment further.

The school head, Mr Phil Blinston, said the school felt it had been let down by the rugby club.

He said the all-weather pitch, currently being used by pupils only, ideally needed weekly maintenance.

He said it would be all right without maintenance for a week or two during which time he hoped the issue would be resolved.

“If we still cannot get proper access via the normal route we will have to take it out of commission,” said Mr Blinston.

“If we have to close it, it will affect the students and the curriculum. It will also delay access to potential third parties.”

He said 15 groups and clubs wanted to use the pitch but a meeting planned for next week had been postponed because of the dispute.

Mr Jeremy Berridge, a senior surveyor with Bruton Knowles property consultants, Nottingham, is representing Southwell Rugby Club.

Mr Berridge said the club, on Park Lane, Southwell, had known since 2006 that part of the new Minster School site was planned on land owned by the club.

He said the club raised its concerns with the council and the school several times and thought the issue had been resolved through an agreement with the county council to exchange the land in return for a longer lease on the pitch it rented from the council.

He said the agreement fell through and on March 22 the club put up a fence marking its boundaries.

They waited until contractors had left the school site so they did not interfere with building work.

Mr Berridge said: “If we did not take action we would lose the land for nothing.

“The county council gave us no choice.”

He said the club did not want the land for anything in particular but was taking a stand on the principle that the council should have gone through the correct process.

“Taking people’s land when they know it is theirs, without compensation, is not good practice,” he said.

Mr Berridge said copies of emails to and from officers at the county council over the past two years showed the club had done everything it could to prevent the problem arising.

He said: “We could have done things earlier which could have had a significant adverse effect on the school development but as a club, we chose not to.”

He said the club could have used an injunction to make contractors stop working on that area of the site and get off the land.

“Our concern is that where the land is clearly identified as belonging to another owner that the county council, as the acquiring authority, should respect that ownership and should act in accordance with the law,” said Mr Berridge.

“We say they have an obligation to identify who owns what and to negotiate and pay a fair price for the land they need to take.

“We do not have a problem about letting the land go in principle, but we want to make sure it is done in the proper way.

“The council should have notified us, asked us and negotiated with us to purchase the land.

“If we could not agree a price the council could have made a compulsory purchase order and we would have received the money we were entitled to under legislation.”

Mr Berridge said there was now no guarantee the rugby club would accept the deal to which it was prepared to agree last year.

He said when the club registered the land in 2000, the Land Registry did not register the patch of land in question. He said the Land Registry said it was because there was no clear boundary as the area was overgrown.

Mr Berridge said a right of way had been moved from its original position and neither the school nor Mr Butler had to go on to the rugby club’s land in the past.

He said the rugby club had produced its title deeds but the county council had not.

Plans submitted to Newark and Sherwood District Council by the school governors on May 17, 2005 excluded the land owned by the rugby club.

They showed that the existing access, granted by deed, was to be truncated, effectively preventing access to Mr Butler’s fields.

Documents on the district council website show that after a meeting with council planners an amended site layout plan, which included the rugby club’s land, was submitted on August 2, 2005, a week before the planning committee approved the application on August 9.

In his report to the committee the head of planning, Mr Mike Evans, said the submitted site plan clearly showed a tractor right of way to the fields that are beyond the school’s new playing fields.

Mr Berridge said the amended plan took the development outside the application site.

He said the district council had made an error and should have asked the architects to revise the application site boundaries, notify the rugby club and hold another public consultation on the amended plans.

He said as the boundaries were not amended the council had no power to grant permission for any development on the land outside the boundaries and therefore no permission existed for the farmer’s right of way over the land.

Mr Berridge said the club did not want to affect adversely the Minster School and had filled in a ditch to provide alternative access so a tractor could reach its all-weather pitch.

It has also provided a water supply to wash mud off the tractor’s wheels before it went on the pitch.

He said it had provided a temporary licence to the school so it could pass over its land. Mr Blinston said a temporary licence had not been issued.

A county council spokesman said: “The piece of land in question is owned by the county council and has been a private right of way for Mr Butler for the last 30 years.

“Any injunction that is made to remove the fencing needs to be made against Southwell Rugby Club as they installed it.

“As this is a right of way, it is unlawful for Southwell Rugby Club to block access and the county council will be making application for the club to remove the recently installed fencing.”

Mr Blinston said he acknowledged the rugby club’s provision of an alternative access to the all-weather pitch but said the school was not using it.

He said he did not want the groundsman to be in a position where he had to clean mud off the tractor’s wheels and risk missing some.

“We have been using the road for decades without impediment,” said Mr Blinston.

“We were absolutely shocked to the core when we found this had been done without warning and over Easter when nobody was around.

“These are not the actions of a group that is working in partnership.”

Newark and Sherwood District Council failed to respond to requests for its views.



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