£18K county council legal bill to fight village green plan
“A sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
That was the assessment of a parish councillor leading a group of villagers in a legal battle with Shire Hall when told of Gloucestershire County Council’s legal bill.
Bob Stark is one of a group of Prestbury residents trying to preserve Prestbury Road Playing Fields as a green recreation space, rather than seeing them built on as part of a housing development bid by the authority.
Last month, an inquiry was held where lawyers for the council argued against the residents’ proposal to designate the land, owned by the county council, as a village green, which would ensure its future for leisure use.
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The total paid by the council for its lawyers at the four day hearing was £17,761. It was represented by Vivian Chapman QC who works at 9 Stone Buildings chambers in Lincoln’s Inn in London.
Mr Stark said that the residents’ solicitors and barristers cost them “between £12,000 and £13,000.”
The counsel for the Prestbury residents was Daniel Stedman-Jones, a junior barrister – not a QC – from 39 Essex Street chambers, also in London.
Mr Stark, a retired military colonel, said: “Of course as council taxpayers we were also paying in part for the county council’s lawyers and I was pretty sore about that.
“I’d also want to ask why the council, with their team of legal experts, saw fit to hire one of the two best QCs in the country dealing with village green applications. It had to hire an independent inspector and Vivian Chapman sometimes acts as one of those.
“It was a real sledgehammer to crack a nut. He was very hostile in his questioning of residents.”
Andrew McCartney, Gloucestershire County Council’s director of programme support, said: “We approached three barristers and chose this particular counsel because he best met our needs as a landowner in responding to the village green application.”