Development plans for prime city land

A FARMER granted 'squatter's rights' to 13 acres of Lancaster farmland nearly five years ago could be set to make millions by selling the land.

David Townley hit the headlines in October 2004 after an appeal court judge confirmed his possession of land at Whinney Carr off the A6, which he had farmed for 20 years without paying a penny.

Topplan Estates, which had bought the site in 1992, lost its rights to the land.

Now Mr Townley has an agreement to sell the land to another developer, Commercial Estates Projects Limited.

In 2004 the site was estimated to be worth 6.5million with planning permission.

Mr Townley declined to comment but a spokeswoman for the Commercial Estates Group confirmed it was looking to acquire the land for a potential development. She said it had 'no fixed plans' for the land at present.

An application by Mr Townley for 535 houses on the site was refused by the Secretary of State in 2003 after the number of new homes needed in the district was reduced.

But the target has recently increased and the council must now identify sites for 6,000 homes over the next 15 years. The Whinney Carr site is one of those earmarked for development.

Mr Townley's land adjoins the Lawson's Bridge fields, which the city council has agreed to sell to Booths for the development of a 20,000sq-ft supermarket, subject to planning permission. Commercial Estates has lodged a joint objection with the city council to a residents' application to have the Lawson's Bridge site and Mr Townley's fields designated a 'town green'.

If granted, the application is likely to scupper any plans for the supermarket or new homes.

Applicants Nick and Susan Jackson, of Scotforth Road, must prove locals have 'indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years'.

They claim the land has been used for in that way for at least 63 years.

Their bid has been backed by 87 households who claim the land is used for dog walking, kite flying, throwing frisbees, newt collecting, train spotting, skating on a frozen pond and even cow watching.

One resident, Joe Lobley, said: "The freedom to be able to walk with your back to the A6 and perhaps feel for a moment you are ambling through the countryside is a rare and pleasant treat that should be kept for future generations."

Another, Ronnie Kershaw, wrote: "I believe that looking after our green spaces is important as we need to do everything possible to reduce our impact on the environment given that climate change is the most urgent issue facing mankind."

But Walker Morris, a solicitor representing the developer and council, argued that people's use of the land had not been 'as of right' and that they 'had to adapt their use around agricultural activities'.

Mr Morris urged Lancashire County Council to refuse the application without holding a public inquiry.

But last week the county, which owns a narrow strip of the site, agreed an inquiry should be held. The date has not yet been decided.