A recent Court of Appeal ruling that removed the final hurdle to a council building on green space has prompted concerns among campaigners that it will make the process easier in future.
The court found that Merton Council had followed procedure in its assessment of public need of Dundonald Rec in Wimbledon, south London. The local authority can now go ahead and build facilities for 210 new school places at Dundonald Primary, which adjoins the rec.
However, Christine de Ferrars Green, a partner at law firm Mills & Reeve, said local authorities already have extensive powers.
Campaigners believe the ruling gives local authorities "carte blanche" for future development on green space. They have launched a petition to council leader Stephen Alambritis demanding that the remaining land be transferred into a trust.
The council said the space is "much needed" for education and the school's new facilities will be open to the public. Cabinet member for education Peter Walker was pictured celebrating with cava outside the school.
But Protect Dundonald Rec chairman Lorraine Maries said 600sq m will be exclusively for school use while 1,800sq m will be a multi-use games area that will only be open to members of the public outside school hours of 8am-6pm.
"It is open to the community but only if we pay," she said. "We've done our best but we don't want to lose the rest of the rec. It is well used. Perhaps it won't happen this year or next year but in five or 10 years' time. We have returned to the council and said show that you are genuine and put the remainder into a community trust."
Maries envisioned that this would be run by a management committee "in partnership with the council" that would also work to raise funds. Dundonald Rec brings in around £30,000 from rentals each year. She added that there has been no offer of a land swap.
HW asked for an interview with Alambritis but he was unavailable for comment. Maries added: "If they refuse to put it in trust, it makes local people very suspicious."
Open Spaces Society general secretary Kate Ashbrook said the group would back protective powers. "This Government has changed the law on village greens so that we can no longer register land if it is under threat. Those who are campaigning for their open spaces are at a severe disadvantage."
De Ferrars Green said: "Local authorities already have extensive powers. "They must be used wisely and they must follow due process," she added.
"If anything, a case like this makes council officials more concerned to be satisfied that from the range of powers at their members' disposal they chose the right one carefully and ensure that they have a full report and a detailed audit trail for the decision-making process."
Compensation seen as a logical next step for local authority
Dr Sid Sullivan, Parks consultant and former interim parks director at Merton council
"This has been going on for some years, while I was there. The council owns land and has a right to deal with it as they wish subject to planning law or any other conditions that apply to the land. The issue now is whether the council will offer compensation, such as a land swap. That's one of the things I would pursue if I was them. All loss of open space is potentially damaging but you must be pragmatic."