For a stunning example of legalistic absurdity look no further than the case of Erw Goch.
For decades, this stretch of open land above Aberystwyth has been of great importance as a recreational green lung for people living in the intensively developed suburb of Waunfawr. With its sea views and rich bird-life, it’s a place to unwind, to recharge, to take stock. Generations living nearby have used it for exactly that. The function of this stretch of publicly-owned semi-wildness is therefore well and truly established.
The fact that more than half a century ago it was vaguely earmarked by the then Cardiganshire County Council as a site for a school has long been irrelevant. It was never used for the school in question - Ysgol Penweddig - which ended up way off down the hill.
Perversely, however, Ceredigion council’s cabinet is trying to cling on to the notion that this hilltop remains available only for “educational use”.
Both sides in the protracted dispute over whether the land should be declared a village green, and thereby saved from being concreted over, know this tag has for many years been a meaningless label which ignores the reality that the disintegration of this entirely non-formalised designation began when Penweddig was built elsewhere, and continued in the 1990s when part of the Erw Goch land was snipped off to allow construction of Hafan y Waun care home.
The facts speak for themselves. But, almost neurotically, Ceredigion council has now squandered £40,000 of badly needed public money on seeking outside legal advice that would confirm its quite unreasonable contention that the “educational use” condition survives.
Lawyers, apparently manipulating legalistic argument to the point of strangulation, have now claimed just that. It’s a verdict that of course works both ways, that leaves neither side victors.
If “educational use” is ever confirmed, it may end up blocking residents’ wish to have the land designated a village green.
Equally, it may stymie the cabinet’s stubborn attempts to usher in the 70 houses they, with a housing association, are pushing for.
Which raises the question of what possible purpose did those on the council backing development - in defiance of a clear community wish for a village green designation - think would be served by seeking external legal advice? Always, the outcome was perhaps predictable: they would be deposited up a blind alley helpful neither to them nor to backers of a village green. A full meeting of Ceredigion council has now unanimously rejected the rather odd findings of the authority’s outside lawyers.
The councillors’ rebuff should signal the end of the affair. Logically and democratically, the only proper way forward is for the application for village green status to succeed, and for the entirely phoney “educational use” plea to be slung into history’s shredder.
Consequently, it’s unacceptable that the council’s cabinet is apparently refusing to accept the full council ruling. Worse, they now risk provoking a constitutional crisis by announcing their intention to “go away and seek further advice”. Which, apart from turning democracy on its head, would entail a further spending splurge at a time when council budgets are as stretched to breaking point.
In a refreshing and unusual assertion of their overriding authority, the full council has defied those who, mistakenly, regard themselves as being in the driving-seat.
Faced with this solid opposition, the cabinet is now devoid of any possible mandate to carry on trying to push through their housing plan. Ploughing on regardless, which is their intention, will be to stray into a land democratically unauthorised and uncharted.