Furious campaigners have welcomed a Government watchdog ruling that public open space was wrongly sold for a multi-million pound supermarket development - saying their protest group was gagged.
Bolsover District Council has already given the go-ahead for a massive Morrisons’ supermarket and petrol station after selling its former Sherwood Lodge HQ site, off Oxcroft Lane, Bolsover.It included green land which protestors wanted to preserve.
But the Local Government Ombudsman announced on Tuesday that the council had sold the land without correctly advertising its sale as open space - denying residents the right to object on that basis.
The land was also appropriated for development at a meeting where the public was excluded.
Save Sherwood Green campaigner Selvanayagam Elanchelian said: “I’m angry. We have argued throughout the land belongs to the public and we told the council.
“They should have investigated because they run on public money and our taxes but they ignored us. We’re still opposed to having a supermarket or anything else on this public land and still hope that plans can be changed.”
The council, which moved to new Arc offices at Clowne on the back of the sale, told the Ombudsman that officers were unaware the land had been designated public space in 1941 and that it did not hold records from its predecessor council.
Its planning committee approved the application and every councillor, except Green Party member Duncan Kerr, voted in favour of the development amidst complaints the council had failed to address public concerns.
Businesses including Mr Elanchelian’s Bolsover petrol station on High Street also raised objections to Morrisons’ planning application because they feared they would lose trade.
But the council and Morrisons argue the supermarket will work well alongside traders, bring customers to the struggling town, create 220 jobs, increase choice and bring improvements to Stratton Road Memorial Garden and town centre highways.
Mr Elanchelian added: “Sherwood Lodge has been closed for nearly a year and with workers moving to the Arc, businesses have already been losing trade. Many are against the supermarket and petrol station because Morrisons is a big company that can operate cheaply and will steer customers away from smaller traders.”
The Ombudsman recommended the council revises its Disposal and Acquisition of Land and Property Assets Strategy including public open space procedures.
It has been urged to apologise to the complainant who brought the case to the LGO and offer £250 compensation for the loss of opportunity to object.
The council confirmed the development will go ahead. It stressed it had no record of the land as public open space and there was nothing indicating this in title deeds and the land had been significantly developed since 1941 without objections.
A council spokesman said: “The first we knew of this claim was when we were informed in June 2012 when documents were recovered from Derbyshire County Council archives. The appropriation of the land had already taken place a year before in June 2011.”
The council claimed the appropriation of land meeting agenda was available to view before the meeting and the decision to appropriate the land was made before any decision to sell the site.
An application for Village Green status was also rejected by Derbyshire County Council’s Regulatory Licensing and Appeals Committee, according to Bolsover District Council.
The district council spokesman added people were alerted about plans with site notices and opportunities to comment during consultation and planning processes and a petition was considered.
However, the spokesman added it would take on board lessons learned and alter procedures accordingly.
A Morrisons spokesperson said: “This is a matter for Bolsover District Council and it is not appropriate for Morrisons to discuss the issue.”