Use it or lose it: Evidence highlights risk to Hayes Park’s Green Belt status

After five months of patiently waiting to see who bought Home Farm/Hayes Park and what their plans for the site would be, an eagle-eyed local resident contacted Friends of Hayes End to say the land had been curiously relisted on property website RightMove as for sale.

While the listing’s contents – in terms of property particulars – remains largely the same, the guide price for the land has been raised from £5.5m to £6.03m, and a new round of sealed bids for the site have now been sought.

As before, the site is available to buy in full or in parts, having been already divided up into five separate lots. Interested parties had until 17 February to submit a bid for all or part of the land.

Friend of Hayes End contacted Bidwells, the estate agency overseeing the sale, on 25 February to find out why the first round of sealed bids – which were submitted in September 2015 – failed to result in the land being sold.

The rise in guide price was also queried during this exchange, but a Bidwells spokesperson said the company would be unable to comment on anything to do with the sale of Home Farm at this time due to “confidentiality commitments.”

In light of that, one can only speculate about the reasons for the relisting. However, given the land’s previous owner went out of business (and its sale is being pushed through by an insolvency firm) it is fair to assume their interest lies in raising as much money as they can from selling it.

Incidentally, Friends of Hayes End also made several attempts last week to contact the aforementioned insolvency firm about the Home Farm case but had not received a  response at the time of writing.

Watching and waiting

While we wait (again) to see what the outcome of the sealed bids process is, Friends of Hayes End has been doing some investigating into the various planning issues prospective buyers could run into should they make a play to develop the site’s Green Belt areas.

According to Hillingdon Council’s planning strategy documents, new developments on Green Belt and Green Chain land (which is what Home Farm is specifically designated as) will be “firmly resisted” unless they add value from a scenic, conservation or recreational point of view to the local area.

The council also has to abide by national and London-centric frameworks when ruling on planning matters, which can grant permission for Green Belt to be built on if the development meets certain criteria.

As such the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework states developments that boost the recreational appeal, the agricultural use of the land or provide limited amounts of affordable housing are not considered “inappropriate” use of Green Belt.

Furthermore, permission can also be granted to redevelop existing buildings within Green Belt land, providing the alterations do not drastically alter the size of the property.

If, however, a proposed development does not fall under any of these criteria, a prospective buyer has the option to engage the “very special circumstances test”.

As part of this, they would need to prove the benefits of building on the land outweigh the disadvantages the community would experience by losing access to it.

Time for action

Worringly, a planning advisory document seen by Friends of Hayes End and issued to prospective buyers, suggests bidders are being encouraged to consider challenging whether or not Home Farm should be considered Green Chain any more with local planners.

“The majority of the land continues to be inaccessible to the general public and thus can reasonably be said to be not fulfilling its designated Green Chain status,” the document reads.

“A development proposal has the potential to directly address these deficiencies and the council has already accepted a very special circumstances argument [elsewhere in the borough] predicated on an identified need for additional schools to meet the increasing pressures of a fast-growing population.”

While on paper (thanks in no small part to the removal of several access points into Hayes Park in recent years) it may appear the site is not used widely from a recreational point of view. Anecdotally, there is much evidence to suggest that it is.

For instance, from local dog walkers, ramblers, conservationists, and others, but we need evidence to back this up.

So, we’re calling on everyone in the local area to fill in our survey, which is designed to gauge how widely used and highly valued Home Farm/Hayes Park is by the local community.

And, on top of that, we’ll also be taking steps to find out how else the local community can start exercising their right to roam on the site because – as the old saying goes – if you don’t use, you’ll lose it.