Being a Local Correspondent for Open Spaces Society has definitely widened my life experiences in unexpected ways. What an innocent I once was.
After a Local Correspondent has had the fun of path inspections and commenting on rights of way Orders, or discovering issues around commons or village greens, objections or applications are submitted. Without resolution, the next step is an inquiry – in the last few weeks, I happen to have had two: one for a village green application and the other for rights of way orders.
You can’t film the actual proceedings. The village green inquiry was in a church hall in Pontypridd, luckily dry and with overnight storage for the bulky files involved. I didn’t fancy carrying them home each night. Was I scared, facing a top QC hired by the objectors, and the inquiry being heard by another QC? Yes, indeed. More importantly, I didn’t want to let the applicants down, and kept the terror under control. There was also the fascination of watching the two legal heavyweights sparring over expert matters – which we could not affect.
This week I represented OSS as objector at a rights of way inquiry held in the Orangery in Margam Park, a gorgeous setting in autumn colours. The local campaign has grown over time and has used social media to expand into a big community group, meeting monthly in a friendly pub and active on the paths and beach involved.
The inquiry is held by the Planning Inspectorate and the Inspector makes a recommendation to the Welsh minister, either to confirm or refuse each order. The Inspector sat at the top table (her retiring room is through the doors behind), the council and their barrister were on the left and we were on the right, with a big table with copies of evidence and maps to help us. About 50 people were attending, and the Inspector was careful that people had an opportunity to speak if they wished.
Once upon a time, I never imagined doing this. I get support from OSS office and lots of encouragement. I wish that public access and rights of way were better protected and that OSS had an Local Correspondent in each local authority to take on the powers that seek to remove our rights to open space.