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Refusal to list Leeds sports field as asset of community value ruled unlawful

Supporters of TV Harrison CIC, a community interest company, are celebrating an important victory after a judge ruled that Leeds City Council’s refusal to list a longstanding sports field as an asset of community value (ACV) is unlawful.

Posted on 25 January 2022

The judgment quashes Leeds City Council’s decision of 22 December 2020 not to include the land in its list of ACVs. It also provides important clarity as to the correct interpretation of the law regarding the listing of ACVs.

TV Harrison Sports Ground, in Wortley, is a historic local sports field which is greatly valued by the local community and has been restored by the local community in recent years. It is used for recreational activities, informal football matches, fundraising events and other community sports and social activities.

The community group had applied to add the sports ground to the Leeds City Council’s list of ACVs in April 2020. The council rejected that application on 18 June 2020, but this decision was ultimately quashed by the High Court on 4 November 2020 with the consent of the council.

In December 2020 the application was then redetermined and refused again by Leeds City Council on the a basis that it was not in the council’s view realistic to think that the community use of the site could continue (which is the statutory test in section 88(1)(b) of the Localism Act 2011).

The council gave as the reason for this conclusion the fact that the land had been allocated for housing in its local plan (an allocation which the community group contests, but is no longer able to challenge in the courts) and that the council had “firm and settled plans” to develop the land for housing.

In the judgment handed down today Mr Justice Lane held that in forming its opinion under section 88(1)(b) of the Localism Act in this way, the council had erred in law.

In particular, the judge found that the council:

Failed to have regard to material considerations, in particular the opposing factors which might mean that the land could not in the end be developed for housing
Took into account irrelevant considerations, by taking into account the factors which pointed towards the possibility of the site being redeveloped without at the same time taking into account the opposing factors
Given the appearance of bias given the council’s own interest in redeveloping the site
Failed to understand or give effect to section 88(1)(b) of the Localism Act.

The judgment contains a helpful discussion of a number of First-tier Tribunal cases involving ACV decisions. While noting that these cases, the judge found that the interpretation of the statute put forward in such cases was correct. This judgment therefore sets a useful precedent for future ACV decisions, which previous First-tier Tribunal decisions could not. Mr Justice Lane set out the following helpful interpretation of section 88(1)(b):

“The legislation does not require there to be only one “realistic” future use of a building or other land. Several possibilities may each be realistic. The legislation does not require a potential future use to be more likely than not to come into being, in order for it to be realistic. The fact that the most likely of a number of scenarios is one which would not satisfy the statutory criteria (eg. a change of use from pub to residential) does not mean that any other potential future use is, without more, rendered unrealistic. It is only if the non-compliant scenario is so likely to occur as to render any compliant scenario unrealistic, that the non-compliant scenario will be determinative of the nomination.”

Michael Meadowcroft, chair of the campaign group, said:

“This is a very significant decision in the High Court. It means that the City Council has to reconsider its decision not to designate the historic TV Harrison Sports Ground as an Asset of Community Value. If it is designated it confers a number of vitally important rights, in particular the community would have the right to buy the ground in order to safeguard it. Also, in its submission to the Court, the City Council stated that it ‘may terminate the Agreement [to purchase] in certain circumstances including if the land is listed as an Asset of Community Value’. These are very positive steps in our campaign to retain the sports ground and to begin to implement our plans to bring the whole site into use as a sports and community facility. Once the City Council has formally accepted the Court’s decision we will look forward to working with local schools, sports clubs and community associations to bring the whole ground into full use as soon as possible.”

Ricardo Gama, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, added:

“We are very pleased that the court has ordered Leeds City Council to look again at their decision not to list TV Harrison Sports Ground as an asset of community value (ACV). The judgment also provides important guidance on how the Localism Act could be interpreted in relation to future ACV decisions which I hope will help other community groups who are fighting to keep areas of local importance from being redeveloped. It is certainly a judgment which local authorities should pay close attention to.”

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Ricardo Gama November 2021
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Ricardo Gama

Ricardo specialises in environmental claims and planning law

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