Hitchin Town Football Club’s land deregistered

THE land where a football club is based has been deregistered as common land, following a public inquiry last month.

Hitchin Town Football Club’s Top Field stadium, which is owned by Hitchin trustees the Cow Commoners, was registered as common land under the Commons Registration Act 1965. The outcome of the inquiry, launched after an application by “friend of the club” Robin Furby, now removes that status.

Although the Cow Commoners will continue to own the Fishponds Road land, which they lease to the club, there has been talk that deregistration could pave the way for potential development on the site.

In the eight-page report, which confirms the decision, planning inspectorate Barney Grimshaw states that all the criteria to satisfy the deregistration is met.

This includes the land having to be registered under the 1965 act, that the registration became final, and that it was never used as a town or village green.

Mr Grimshaw, however, does mention evidence presented at the inquiry by residents, who claimed they used the land for recreational purposes.

He says: “Some evidence was presented to the effect that some at least of the application land had been used by members of the public for recreational purposes on an informal basis for a considerable period. It might therefore be possible that the land has acquired status of a town or village green as result of its use.

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“However, evidence of such use is limited and much of it relates to use after provisional registration of the land in 1967.

“Overall, whilst there may well have been some unauthorised use of some of the application land, there is only limited evidence of this from a few residents of the immediate vicinity and strong evidence that such use cannot have taken place continuously for 20 years prior to 1967.”

Mr Grimshaw also highlights the concerns raised at the inquiry with regard to development and the environment.

But he adds that he couldn’t take it into consideration when making his decision.

“Several objectors to the application were concerned that deregistration of Top Field might open the way for its development and the consequential loss of a local amenity. Others were also worried regarding the possible loss of wildlife habitat or trees. The future of the football club was also a matter of concern for some people,” the report continues.

“I understand these concerns, but they lie outside the criteria set out in the relevant legislation and guidance and therefore I have given them no weight in reaching my decision.

“I would however point out that the approval of the application will have no effect on the ownership of the land which will remain with the Trustees of Cow Common who will be subject to the same conditions and objectives as present. Also, any existing Tree Preservation Orders relating to trees on the land will be unaffected.”

It had emerged at the inquiry that the land could not be sold without being replaced with somewhere of equal or better value.

A spokesman from Hitchin Cow Common Trust said: “The application for deregistration of Top Field was not made by the Hitchin Cow Common Trust and our position at the Public Enquiry was neutral.

“The Inspectorate’s decision to deregister the land does not affect the ownership of the trust’s land.”

Hitchin Town FC said they did not want to comment at this time. Robin Furby, from Dunmore Developments, was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.