Dymchurch Rec: SGP calls on parish council to guarantee its future

May 29, 2018

Shepway Green Party has campaigned alongside residents over the last year to save Dymchurch Recreation Ground from development. After two new twists to the saga last week, we are calling on the Parish Council to now guarantee the future of this heavily used and much loved community asset.  

In the face of considerable resident opposition and the findings of its own survey, the chair of Dymchurch Parish Council at its annual meeting on Friday evening promised that no further steps would be taken with its proposed plans to build ten houses on part of Dymchurch Recreation Ground for at least the next eleven months (to the May 2019 local elections).

The promise is welcomed by Shepway Green Party, which is now calling on the Parish Council to go a step further and drop its opposition to the Recreation ground becoming a village green, thereby guaranteeing that it is safe from all future development.

Two days before the annual meeting, a village green application brought by the Friends of Dymchurch Rec residents group was turned down by a panel of Kent County Council’s Regulation Committee. The application failed on just one of the five legal tests, with the panel ruling that the Recreation Ground had been used “by right” (so with use granted to residents by the Parish Council as the landowner) rather than “as of right”.

The land was donated to the community in 1927 “to be used solely for sport and recreation in the village” and passed to the Parish Council at this time.

At the well-attended panel meeting, our local KCC member, Martin Whybrow, spoke in favour of the application. He has been a vocal supporter of the campaign to save the Rec from the outset, worked alongside the Friends Group on their campaign and presented the application and a large number of evidence forms to KCC.

Speaking at the panel meeting, Martin said: “I hope that the level of passion shown by residents for their recreation ground – not the parish council’s recreation ground – will cause the parish council to reconsider its proposal and now work with the community, not against it, to plan and fund improvements without recourse to loss of part of the amenity.

Notably, the Tory chair of the panel, Andrew Bowles (KCC member for Swale East and chairman of Swale Borough Council), gave a similarly strong message to the parish councillors when he summed up at the end of the meeting.

Also at the panel meeting, strong cases for the application were eloquently relayed by Deana Coker, Sally Cook and Vanessa McCreedy to loud applause from the audience. Particularly powerful was a statement, read out by Sally, from Vanessa, Stuart and Susan, the children of Alan Wraight and grandchildren of Morris and Daisy Wraight, who originally donated the land to the parish, stating that any development would, in their opinion, be “breaching the true intent and wishes of our grandparents”.

Martin Whybrow (2nd left) with Thomas Quaye, Claire Coker and Sally Cook from Friends of Dymchurch Rec

Two days later, at the annual meeting, which was similarly well attended, Councillor Meyers presented the results of the parish council’s resident survey. It showed a majority of respondents opposed to development which, he admitted, demonstrated there was no mandate for proceeding. He committed that no further steps would be taken by the current council ahead of next May’s local elections.

Shepway Green Party backs the call from a resident on Friday for the Parish Council to drop its opposition to the village green application. Councillor Meyers said this would be discussed. At the Wednesday Regulation Committee panel, KCC’s lead officer confirmed that if a landowner does not oppose an application, then it would typically pass without any hindrance. That would allow the application to be resubmitted and would ensure that the recreation ground was guaranteed as open public space for the future.

An earlier resident survey by the Friends of Dymchurch Rec, in the second half of last year, gained almost 1000 responses (far more than the council’s own survey) and, as at a Parish Council meeting a year ago where a vote was taken, not one resident supported development. The Friends Group survey sought views on what facilities residents would like to see on this scarce, heavily-used asset.

Background: Dymchurch Recreation Ground is the only significant play area in the parish. Dymchurch is recognised in the Shepway Local Plan Open Spaces Strategy as lacking community open spaces. The Recreation ground is also listed in the Shepway Open Spaces: Sports & Recreation Report 2011. And in the Shepway Core Strategy, there is clear protection for such open spaces.