The owner of a former sports ground has lost his bid to scrap a legal clause which dictates it can’t be used for anything other than cricket.
The old Highbury Works Cricket Club, next to Meanwood Park in north Leeds, is bound by a 1997 covenant which technically prevents it having any other use.
Now the government’s Planning Inspectorate has dismissed an appeal by the property’s current owner, Ed Arvley, to ditch that agreement, which would have made developing the site easier. Leeds City Council had refused his initial application to scrap the clause last year.
But despite the ruling, the stalemate around the now dishevelled and sorry-looking land appears set to continue, according to figures on both sides of the argument. It’s been largely empty since 2004, when the cricket club folded, although it has been used to graze horses over the last decade.
A number of local campaigners in Meanwood have been at odds with Mr Arvley throughout the case, having argued the greenbelt site should be opened up and made available for the community again. They’ve also criticised him for the land’s unkempt state.
Mr Arvley insisted at an appeal hearing in January that the site will never be used for sport while he owns it and accused his opponents of being too narrow-minded in their vision for the site’s future.
In his written ruling, published last week following that hearing, Inspector Mark Brooker said there was, “no requirement on the landowner to provide access to the site or to maintain the site for purposes of cricket, but it nonetheless is clear that the area can only be used as a ‘cricket pitch’.”
He added: “In this respect, there is an ongoing demand for cricket playing and training space in the area which the appeal site, although small, could fulfil.”
Mr Arvley had told the hearing the council had been wrong to define the whole site, including the old clubhouse and car park, as a cricket pitch, when it ruled against ditching the clause last year.
But the planning inspector disputed that view, saying the “intention” of the clause is “clear”.
He cited evidence from Sport England that though the land is too small for adult-grade cricket, it would be suitable for junior matches.
The Yorkshire Cricket Board’s claim that there is a shortage of cricket facilities across Leeds was also referenced.
Mr Arvley’s claim for the council to refund the costs of bringing the case to the Planning Inspectorate was also dismissed.
Local campaigner Julian Oxley said that despite the ruling, there was no sign of the 19-year impasse over the site breaking, as the landowner does not have to pro-actively maintain the site for cricket.
Mr Oxley said: “The whole situation doesn’t seem like it’s going to change.
“Unless the inspector gives the council some sort of impetus to do something about it, we’re no further forward unfortunately.
“It’s just the latest application that’s had to be fought and rebuffed. It’s a waste of people’s time and effort and a waste of a resource.”
Despite losing the appeal, Mr Arvley said he welcomed the inspector’s judgement that he was under no obligation to open up the site, or maintain it.
He said: “From my perspective, the reason I did this was to try to drive the conversation forward.
“This whole exercise was aimed at ending the argument where they (campaigners) were saying they were entitled to this land. The inspector has said they’re not, so for me it’s been a success.”
Asked what his next steps would be, Mr Arvley said he now had no immediate plans for the land.
“I don’t need to do anything,” he said. “Any future plans I put forward will go through the planning application system and follow due process.”
Mr Arvley bought the property for a provisional £1 in 2016, after the previous owner had been in negotiations with a community organisation about selling it to them.
He then submitted plans to build a dog daycare facility on the land two years later, but that was rejected by the city council after dozens of objections.