Friends of Coombe Wood

Coombe Wood as a Village Green — Part Two

This page gives a review of the efforts of the Friends of Coombe Wood to establish the wood north of the stream as a Village Green. The information was taken from the Friend’s News Letters over the past years.

Editor’s Note: These news letters were written as events progressed. Most events described had just happened or were about to happen. I have tried to adjust the tense to present this as a summary of events now in the past.

October 2007

In the news letter of July 2007, we advised members that Essex County Council had registered around 60% of Coombe Wood as a Village Green (VG). This then established, for the residents of a defined neighbourhood, a special and unique legal right to enjoy and pursue legal sports and pastimes within the Village Green area without hindrance and interruption. (See the Access page for details of this neighbourhood.) The Committee were naturally delighted at this outcome, and all those members and residents who took the time and trouble to complete the various questionnaires and evidence forms were to be congratulated. Without this documentation the Village Green status would not have been achieved. For these reasons this October News Letter was circulated not just to members but also to all residents of this neighbourhood.

Since the ECC Village Green registration decision, Castle Point Borough Council formed a Committee whose objective it was to look at and decide upon all of the options surrounding Coombe Wood to best manage the land. This includes all aspects of improvements, partnership(s) with expert groups – and even the Council buying more land or selling their existing holding. We very much wanted to be involved with this Committee and contact arrangements were already in hand. Members may have seen articles on this and other interesting matters on Coombe Wood in the local press recently.

The Committee was not fully satisfied with the fact that only 60% of Coombe Wood was agreed to be registered as a Village Green. We have taken legal advice on various aspects of our application from a solicitor and barrister. In summary, recent changes in the Village Green legislation means that there may be some hope of increasing the area already registered. However, to go down this route would obviously entail some extra cost but, more importantly, a high level of input from the residents of the neighbourhood.

May 2008

The second application for Village Green status on the remaining part of Coombe Wood (the area north of the brook) was delivered to Essex County Council on Wednesday 30th April 2008. Three volumes of documentation in support of the application were submitted. For this we extended our heartfelt thanks to all those who provided information in the form of evidence questionnaires, photos, details of activities by running and rambling clubs as well as evidence of cubs, brownies, scouting and the boys’ brigade plus horse riding and educational evidence through local schools and other organisations. The response to our request for evidence was somewhat overwhelming with 230 evidence questionnaires completed that were analysed and summarised, as well as documentation on community activities.

We should perhaps thank a couple of individuals. Firstly, Eileen Peck volunteered to act as the individual applicant for the Village Green. Eileen was recently a candidate in the Local Council Election and we were appreciative of her commitment in this regard. Secondly, local Commissioner for Oaths, R J Lord at Tarpots, undertook the necessary signatory validations without charge.

October 2008

The second application was delivered to Essex County Council (ECC) on 30th April 2008, and we (or rather the applicant) received acknowledgement and have been notified of the intention of ECC to inform applicable land owners and post relevant notices in the area to advise the neighbourhood of the application. It has been necessary for us to obtain legal opinions and advice on certain matters, and obviously incur the relevant costs, but the Committee believes that this not only adds a certain credence to the application, but ensures that the matter was dealt with in a more responsible way by the Law and Administration department within ECC.

As regards the processing and deliberations of the application by ECC we had no real idea as to how long this would take. We knew that, as a result of clarification by the House of Lords on a number of contentious interpretations of the law and the new 2006 Commons Act being implemented in phases, there has been a significant increase in the number of Village Green applications both in our own county and across the country as a whole. The Committee intended to follow up with ECC as we feel was necessary, but our previous application for Village Green status over Coombe Wood took almost 4 years from submission to completion.

May 2009

The second Village Green application regarding the north part of the woods was submitted to Essex County Council in April 2008. ECC undertook the necessary publicising of the application, with notices in the Echo, and also official signs in the area of the wood. This happened in late 2008, with an ending period for objections to be received by ECC as 9th January 2009. By then, and after several requests from our applicant, ECC told us that one objection had been received, and they had given an extended deadline for the details of the objection to be received by 23rd April 2009. In spite of a further follow-up to ECC, no details had been received. We continued to pursue ECC for the details and, when received, would seek a legal opinion as to the validity of the objection.

As we anticipated, members could see from the time-table of events this was becoming a rather drawn-out affair, but we felt it was important to keep members informed of the status. In the event that this application may possibly go through the process of a Public Inquiry, all of those persons who completed an evidence statement and other supporting documents would still have a vital role to play before the matter was completed.

November 2009

The application was still being reviewed for acceptance by Essex County Council. A number of communications had been received, and detailed responses made to address all of the issues that ECC raised. We did say in our previous News Letter that this might well be a lengthy process, and this was proving to be exactly that. There was no laid-down time-table for the completion of this process, and we were being very careful to respond to ECC in the fullest possible manner without prejudicing our case. Our solicitors also made input on this matter, but as our funds were by no means unlimited, we were at the time handling all of the enquiries ourselves. Although we now had a fairly full understanding of the law, the use of a solicitor and counsel offered a certain amount of credence to our application. Our aim was to have a Public Inquiry set up by ECC, where an independent inspector would examine all of the evidence from both applicant and objector. Should this happen, we were fairly confident of a successful outcome.

We also put together an impressive Funding Support Package, essentially to cover the potential costs of being legally represented at the Public Inquiry and, with the help of CAVS, to whom we are affiliated, we sent this out to a dozen or so Charitable Trusts.

June 2010

The ‘Cartref’ Planning Application.

A planning application from the residents in ‘Cartref’, Lake Drive has been submitted to Castle Point Borough Council seeking change of use of land from open woodland to residential garden. The response from the local residents objecting to this application had been tremendous, and was a reflection of the strength of feeling within the community in protecting Coombe Wood. All of these objections have been posted on the CPBC website, and are still available for review under planning reference CPT/204/10, with full details of the application. The Committee also raised strong objections on behalf of our members, and currently we understood that the council was deliberating over a decision on this application. As soon as the outcome was known we would advise members.

Village Green Boundary Marking and Information Boards

Our planning application to mark the Village Green boundary with cleaved chestnut stake markers was approved, as was an application to the Neighbourhood Budget for funds to complete the project. We have had a number of meetings with council officers to sort out the detail of this, and we had included the siting of information boards in the main entrances of the wood to be completed at the same time. The intention was to have a map of the wood showing the Village Green boundary, brooks, streams and bridle paths as well as an information sheet describing the main flora and fauna within the wood. Hopefully this would be completed soon, but it was surprising how much detail it was necessary to resolve before an end result could be achieved. But we would get there.

There were quite a number of other matters that the Committee had been addressing, and we would inform members as and when progress was made. And of course, the second Village Green application was still before Essex County Council. We had been told that this would most likely go to a Public Inquiry, so plans were under way in preparation of this happening. We have been told by ECC that there were a number of other Village Green applications ahead of ours, so this could take quite some time before completion.

October 2010

The ‘Cartref’ planning application to take part of Coombe Wood as a private garden has been rejected which was very good news. The decision was reached by CPBC due, in no small part, to the volume of objections made by local residents, and it shows how vigilant we must remain even though Village Green and Article 4 Direction exist over this part of Coombe Wood. Also in the area near the lake, action has been taken by CPBC to resolve the septic tank overflow issue, with local residents using the ‘Sludge Gulper’ services, which probably should have been happening more so than in the past. The area was now much more pleasant to visit.

The Committee spent much time trying to arrange for ‘Caution against First Registration’ with the Land Registry (LR) over the currently unregistered parts of the Village Green area of Coombe Wood. A Caution is essentially designed to inform the cautioner in the event of any attempt to register the appropriate land to enable them (the cautioner) to take appropriate actions. An initial Caution application just for a small area was accepted and registered by the LR. However, a second Caution application for the remainder of the unregistered parts brought the response from the LR that rights of access to a Village Green do not create a cautionable interest. The ‘interests’ of local residents with regard to continuing access to a Village Green are protected under Commons Registration legislation, and notification of any application for first registration of land within a Village Green would be made to the appropriate Registration Authority, which in our case was Essex County Council. Members could see this was not exactly a simple matter, and we continued to communicate with the Land Registry to clarify certain matters in this regard.

We have been progressing the project of marking the Village Green boundary with cleaved stake markers. There was some CPBC publicity in the latest View Point magazine that our application for funding out of the Neighbourhood Budget to cover the anticipated costs of this project had been granted, as well as an article on the litter pick. Now that the Cartref application was resolved, we hoped this could go ahead very soon with the cooperation and assistance of CPBC.

As far as the second Village Green application goes, we have been devoting substantial time to the planning and preparation for an ECC Public Inquiry which would determine the outcome of the application. Significant efforts have been devoted to trying to obtain funding for legal advice for our strategy for the Inquiry, but offers of financial support so far have not met the FOC committee’s fiscal policy. We believe it essential to have funds in the bank before any significant financial commitments were made on behalf of our members. But our efforts have been actively continuing in the search for legal advice, as we all believe this would put our application on a more sound footing, and increase the chances of success. The Committee was grateful to CAVS for their help and advice in this matter.

April 2011

At long last, and after what seems an age since the second Village Green application over the northern part of Coombe Wood was submitted, we received notification from Essex County Council (ECC) confirming the arrangements for a Public Inquiry to decide upon the application.

The Inquiry was set to commence on Tuesday 14th June 2011 at the Castle Point Council offices in Kiln Road. Three days have been set aside by ECC for the duration of the Inquiry, and whilst the specific details and process of the Hearing would be announced by the Independent Inspector at the opening of the Inquiry, we understood that it would be conducted along the following lines:

The Inquiry would be Non Statutory.

Start time would normally be 10.00am, with a normal finish time of 5.00pm (unless business deems otherwise), with a lunch break of one hour. There would be a morning and afternoon break of approximately 10mins.

The Inspector would, more than likely, have conducted a personal on-site visit prior to the commencement of the Inquiry, and would normally conduct a further on-site visit at some stage during the Inquiry, with an invitation to all interested parties to accompany him on the visit.

The calling of witnesses in support of the application would probably follow the Inspector’s opening remarks and the opening statements by both the applicant and objector, or their representative if they were being legally represented. The Committee had arranged for a significant number of witnesses to appear on behalf of the application, and we estimated that witnesses would commence giving evidence from some time in the first morning and probably continue until the second day.

The Inspector, having collected all the evidence presented at the Inquiry, would issue a report and recommendations to ECC approximately eight weeks after the Hearing. This in turn would be passed to all parties by ECC, and the recommendation would normally be ratified by ECC at a later Development and Regulation Committee meeting in their Chelmsford offices.

We issued a separate communication to all of our witnesses which would provide further detail of the process and hopefully answer any questions they may have had in this regard.

On behalf of the applicant, Eileen Peck, the Committee made arrangements for significant legal representation both during the preparation and submission of the application at the Hearing. We were confident that this would provide the best possible chance of success.

The Committee urged members and supporters of Friends of Coombe Wood to attend the Council offices for at least some time during the Inquiry, if not for the whole of the three-day process. Although attendance might not have a direct impact on the decision of the Inspector, any demonstration of support and concern as to the future of Coombe Wood could only be seen as a positive sign to the Inspector that the community does care about the outcome of the Inquiry. It would also provide a significant amount of support to the Committee who have been quite dedicated in all of the preparation leading up to this Inquiry.

June 2011

The second Village Green application Public Inquiry had now taken place. The Hearing lasted almost three days, and the meticulous planning and preparation that the Committee had undertaken did not go unrewarded. Every member of the Committee had put in a stupendous amount of effort since the application was lodged with Essex County Council, and they were to be warmly congratulated for a most comprehensive and thorough job. The barrister, Cain Ormondroyd, whose services we had managed to secure within our small budget, did a most professional and excellent job in presenting the application; and a big ‘thank-you’ went to all the witnesses who put themselves forward to give evidence. All of those present could not but be impressed with the level of confidence and detailed use of the wood area that was displayed by the witnesses. We must also thank all those who were prepared to give their evidence but were unable to do so due to time constraints during the Hearing. And our IT guru Terry Isherwood did a marvellous job in applying the latest technology in presenting the application. We understood from Cain that we have achieved a first in using overhead screens in presenting a Village Green application.

The FOC Treasurer would be providing a more complete picture of our finances later in the year, but suffice to say here that all the legal and ancillary costs associated with the Hearing have been met out of our group funds. Considering the level of legal support we have obtained this was a tremendous achievement, and one which the community as a whole could be very proud of as they had all played their part through subscriptions and donations over the last couple of years.

A couple of specific thank-you messages. Firstly to Eileen Peck for putting herself forward as the applicant for the Village Green application. Eileen was also able to donate some proceeds from her Thundersley Walks book sales, a fine example of one community project helping another. (This book is also available from the Friends of Coombe Wood. You can use the Contacts page to order a copy. More details are available on the Neighbourhood page.) Secondly, we sent separate thank-you letters to our legal chums, both the Environmental Law Foundation and Cain Ormondroyd, expressing our gratitude for their assistance. They did a first-class job for us, and went to great lengths during the Hearing preparation to ensure our case was presented in the best possible manner. And finally our thanks to CAVS, to whom we are affiliated, for their assistance with providing a copying service at very competitive rates.

We then await the Inspector’s report from Essex County Council, which may take up to 8–10 weeks or more. The Inspector’s recommendation(s) would normally be adopted by Essex County Council through their formal committee process. The Committee would take their foot of the accelerator pedal for a short while until we receive the report, but there were a few other things in process.

October 2011

We had expected that the Inspector’s report and recommendation(s) would be issued approximately 8 to 10 weeks following the Inquiry. Unfortunately almost 4 months later this had not been the case and Essex County Council (ECC) have confirmed during our most recent follow up that they too have not received the report. ECC did confirm that they would make contact with the Planning Inspectorate at Bristol to determine where they were at with the issuance of the report. At the time of writing this news letter we have had no further communication with ECC, and would make further inquiry with them very shortly. Although there was no formal statutory period for the issuance of the Inspector’s report following an Inquiry, ECC did advise that the target period adopted by the Planning Inspectorate for the issuance of a report was between 8 to 12 weeks.

October 2011

We were able to confirm that the report had just been received, and that the Inspector had recommended to Essex County Council that the Village Green application be approved. The final decision in this matter rests with the County Councilís Development and Regulation (D & R) Committee, and ECC has invited comments on the assessment made by the Inspector in his recommendation from relevant parties as part of their process of approval. This approval process may take some time as the D & R Committee meet on a monthly basis.

Whilst not trying to pre-empt the final outcome by the D & R Committee, we were extremely encouraged with the recommendation as it stands, and we were grateful to all those persons who had provided input or attended and took part at the Hearing.

Obviously we would keep members advised of progress in this regard. Our Annual General Meeting was scheduled for some time in November, possibly 24th, and we had hoped that we would be in a position to provide further details by that time.

November 2011

The Committee, with the involvement of many of our members and supporters and, at the request of a land owner who was an objector to the second application, have recently been exploring ways to make all of the application area accessible to the community.

These discussions are still ongoing and we hope to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to all of us. It should be noted that it still remains the responsibility of ECC as the Registration Authority to determine the application in light of the Inspector’s report and recommendations, and our ongoing discussions do not pre-empt the outcome of their decision.

March 2012

As we mentioned previously, following the Public Hearing in June 2011 the Inspectorís report was received in October 2011. Immediately following receipt of the report the owners of the fenced-off land to the north of the wood and adjacent to the Church Field entered into discussions with the applicant and the Committee. This was with the objectives of amending the boundary of the Village Green application area and the orderly removal or rearrangement of the fencing to allow complete access to the area. Many of you were involved with us in these negotiations and after taking legal counsel on the matter, an agreeable compromise was eventually reached, leading in turn to a submission to Essex County Council in early December 2011. After several months we responded to ECC enquiries on the changes, and indeed had a meeting in their Chelmsford offices in order to ensure complete clarity over the submission.

At present we are still awaiting the ECC decision on the matter, and until such time as the Village Green application is ratified by the ECC, with or without the submitted changes, no further actions will be taken.

July 12th: New Notice Boards at three Entrances

On Thursday July 12th, volunteers from the Essex Wildlife Trust erected new notice boards at three entrances to the wood. These are at the Coombewood Drive entrance, the first access point along Lake Drive, and the Rhoda Road North entrance.

Coombewood Drive Entrance Notice Board

This is the completed notice board at the Coombewood Drive entrance. It is about ten metres in from the entrance, on the right.

Lake Drive Notice Board

This is the Lake Drive Notice Board being erected. The strut on the right was temporary and held the notice board in place whilst the concrete foundation was setting.

Rhoda Road North Entrance Notice Board

The Rhoda Road North Notice Board is just inside the entrance to the bridleway, near where the made and unmade parts of Rhoda Road meet.

Each notice board provides four pages of information about the wood, and a pictorial map showing the extent of the Village Green.

February 2013: Village Green Status agreed by Essex County Council

On Friday February 22th, the Development and Regulation Committee of Essex County Council unanimously accepted their legal department's recommendation, based on the Inspectorís report, that the northern part of Coombe Wood be registered as a village Green. Councillor Bill Dick made some favourable comments on the conduct and diligence of the Friends of CoombeWood, which is nice. It has now been entered into the Village Green register (as item 255).

The revised boundaries, mentioned in the March 2012 entry in the Village Green II page, were not considered at this meeting. Unfortunately, it was not possible to comply with the legal conditions necessary to accept the change to the application area and therefore, reluctantly, we had to withdraw the proposal and revert back to the original area.

Regarding the fencing which is excluding access to an area within the application and is preventing the community groups operating out of St Peter's church hall from using the land, ECC have reminded us, that whilst they welcome our input, enforcement of Village Green conditions, including access, rests with them. However we remain committed to working with ECC and all land owners.

This decision has generated some interest from the local media. Your Chairman, Terry Isherwood, was on the BBC Essex Breakfast programme, and the Yellow Advertiser included a feature (around March 1st).

More details will soon be made available in the Newsletter to members.

September 2013: Northern part of the wood is now accessible.

The fencing surrounding the northern part of the wood has now been partially removed, and re-erected to form a boundary between the Village Green and the adjacent private land. See the recent Diary entry for September 10th for more details. The Friends of Coombe Wood are currently monitoring the fencing and will keep members informed in their newsletter as well as here.

July 2015: Much of the Fence now Removed

The owner of the northermost part of Coombe Wood, adjacent to the Church and the Churchyard, has agreed to the removal much of the fence. This includes the southern fence, dividing his land from the main part of the wood, and the western fence, adjacent to St Peter’s Graveyard.

With the owners agreement, members of the Friends of Coombe Wood have removed the fence panels from the southern part and both the panels and posts from the graveyard boundary.

This now means that the local community can now readily access the wood from the graveyard and the main part of the wood, although the northern fence still remains, restricting access from the north.

There are some photographs of this part of the wood in the Diary section of this site. (The link is in the panel to the left.)