A Brief History of Burley House Field

bench in the park on a sunny afternoon

The eight acre field runs from the boundary of Burley House in the north to the back gardens of Sandholme Drive in the south, with Bradford Road to the east and the back gardens of St Phillips Drive, St Phillips Way and a high wall along Langford Lane forming the boundary to the west. Woodhead Beck enters near the new Prospect Road gate and leaves via a culvert under Bradford Road on its way to the river Wharfe, although early maps show the beck diverted to run the whole length of the field along Langford Lane to join Rushy Beck to help power the Corn Mill.The ha-has and specimen trees suggest that the field was landscaped as part of the setting for Burley House, but it would also have been part of the home farmland. There were some farm buildings close to the Langford Lane gate sixty or so years ago, and there remains an ancient hand pump in the field.

The Tithe Map of 1847 shows the hedge-line along the southern ha-ha dividing the northern field, Broad Ing, from the 20 acre southern Sandholme field. After the Second World War, maps show Broad Ing as Educational Land, possibly because it was in use by pupils of the private school then occupying Burley House. The northern part of Sandholme, including the rest of the present field, is shown as Public Open Space. However, the pressure to develop was strong and there were applications for permission to build on Sandholme and surrounding land in 1959, 1964, 1966, and 1970 and eventually permission to build on the land which is now Sandholme Estate was granted in 1973. A Minute of the Ilkley UDC recorded the understanding that Broad Ing would be re-designated Public Open Space to replace that lost to development. A separate application to build on the present field was formally lodged and refused. Ilkley UDC bought the land at housing value on 25th March 1974. The UDC ceased to exist at the end of March and the field was acquired by Bradford MDC along with other assets on 1st April 1974. The designation Public Open Space dropped out of use and, because the land had been bought at housing land value, Bradford officers have subsequently assumed that it was bought for housing. In later years, the land was let for grazing and, in addition to the footpath across the southern area, the public continued to use the field for various recreational activities.

Between 1981 and 1984, the voluntary Burley Community Council (BCC), a forerunner of the Parish Council, put a series of proposals to Bradford seeking assistance in refurbishing the field and bringing it into fuller recreational use. These came to nothing, primarily because it was thought that it might be needed for road works for the by-pass. When it was known that that would not be part of the route, Bradford’s Unitary Development Plan (UDP 1993) included proposals allocating the northern half of the field for employment purposes and housing on the rest. Many objections were lodged and so began the long fight to secure the field as an open space for villagers’ recreation. BCC lead the fight through five public inquiries. 

  1. Planning Public Inquiry, 1995. The Inspector’s report upheld the housing allocation on the assumption that the rest of the field was available for recreational use, but Bradford’s officers could not be persuaded.

  2. Planning Public Inquiry, March 2003. The Inspector recommended the housing allocation be cancelled and the whole field designated Village Greenspace and Recreational Open Space. This was endorsed by Bradford Council in formal session on 18th October 2005, but officers claimed that merely limited their future use of the field and did not affect current usage – indeed they entered into a more restrictive five-year agricultural lease and proposed fencing both sides of the footpath to limit public access.

  3. Village Green Public Inquiry, December 2003. An attempt was made to register the field as village green. The field was believed to be eligible because it had been “used by inhabitants of Burley for legal sports and pastimes as of right for more than twenty years.” Although registered as such in April 2000 by BMDC, they did nothing with the registration until May 2003. Officers then filed an objection and a Public Inquiry was begun in December. The Inspector concluded that the field had been used for lawful sports and pastimes neither by force, by stealth nor by permission of the landowner. This would have succeeded had the application been filed in 2000, but a legal decision in another case elsewhere in 2003, involving interrupted use, scuppered it. The Inspector found that one incident of haymaking in the early 1980s was sufficient to demonstrate that recreational use had deferred to farming within the 20 years up to December 2000, and the application failed. An appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman at Bradford’s delay was turned down.

  4. Village Green Public Inquiry, January 2005. Aware of the threat of alleged hay-making in “the early 80s”, BCC lodged a second village green application in December 2003, claiming 20 years’ qualifying unimpeded use of the field since the hay-making. The Inquiry went well, but soon after, a Court of appeal decision in an Oxford case radically changed the law and the Inspector felt obliged to follow this new interpretation and the village failed again. Intransigence by BMDC officers, and particularly their threat to build fences excluding the public, seemed to residents to be entirely improper. Efforts by Bradford Councillors, including a Petition to a full Council meeting, made little progress. However, in December 2006 the Executive Committee duly ruled that the whole field should be used for informal recreation, under the management of the newly formed Burley Parish Council. Negotiations for this were suspended because of a House of Lords decision which reversed the basic ruling of the Oxford case.

  5. Village Green Public Inquiry, April 2009. Fortunately, the Government slipped in some new clauses to the Commons Act 2006, enabling applications to be made for a limited time on the new basis, which Burley Community Council duly did. Its final project. Excellent advocacy persuaded the Inspector to recommend that Bradford should register the field as a village green, which was approved in September 2009.
Following drawn-out negotiations, Burley Parish Council signed a  20-year         lease and a management agreement for the field with Bradford MDC.

Extract from “BURLEY HOUSE FIELD, The story of a long campaign with a successful outcome for the village community,” by the late John Gundry, whose tireless efforts brought about that success.

We hope you enjoy visiting the field.

The Friends of Burley House Field, September 2013.