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WALSALL: “Land grab” accusation denied

WALSALL: “Land grab” accusation denied

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A defiant former councillor has refuted accusations he “land grabbed” a large chunk of historic Streetly woods for his own property – claiming the authority had full knowledge of the work.

Walsall Council planners said Amers Kudhail had fenced off a large plot of Foley Woods, which they say is public land, to incorporate into his own private garden, resulting in an enforcement notice being served on him.

The disputed land measures approximately 11.7m by 60m and is around 702 square metres in size.

But in a strong statement to a public inquiry, Mr Kudhail said the work was done correctly with officers and council leader Mike Bird aware of the development.

He also said he had appealed the action taken against him rather than go down “back door channels” to settle it.

The inquiry, held at Walsall Town Hall, was due to last two days but was adjourned for undisclosed reasons.

Mr Kudhail – who represented the Streetly ward from 2015 to 2019 bought the property when it was a bungalow in 2002. He was granted permission to demolish this and build a five-bedroom family home which was completed in 2013.

He said a barbed wire fence was already in use on the disputed area when he bought it. A new fence was erected in 2003 before this was eventually replaced with the current structure in 2018 due to disrepair.

The enforcement notice, served in November last year, said he had changed the use of open space woodland into a private residential garden without planning permission.

It orders him to stop this use and remove all materials including the fence, paving slabs, bricks, posts and other domestic paraphernalia.

Mr Kudhail brought the appeal on a number of grounds with the main one being the enforcement notice was served too late as he has been using the whole land continuously as residential since 2002.

Walsall Council said there was no house on the land for at least 22 months up to June 2013 and therefore was not in use by Mr Kudhail.

When giving evidence on oath, Mr Kudhail said: “It was never my intention to upset any fellow residents in Streetly. I sincerely apologise.

“But hopefully, they will see I’ve done things in the right way.

“Everything I have done has been with the guidance and advice of individuals in this council and with full knowledge of what we were doing all the way through and they know the history of the woods.

“Cameron Gibson was there while the fence was being built and he was there looking at bore holes being dug. And that’s the tree officer – so why didn’t they take photos then?

“I took guidance from the leader of the council, Mike Bird. He stood on my property and he was there when he said I’d done everything in the right way.

“This inquiry I bought about because I’ve done it in the right way. I could easily have done the inherent thing which Walsall Council is known for – backdoor channels. I’ve not done anything like that at all.

“I asked [officers] to come and have a look at all of my property and say what I have done wrong.

“Please judge me on my qualities. I was a councillor for four years, I had a heart attack in 2019. A year later, I raised £3,600 for Walsall Heartcare.

“I’ve done everything for the public and for my people in this constituency that I serve. I feel aggrieved.”

Kate Olley, representing Mr Kudhail, said: “He redeveloped the plot and clearly had no intention of abandoning the residential use of the site, returning there with his family once the new house was completed.

“By the time of the rebuild the immunity of the appeal site from enforcement on the balance of probabilities was already established.

“Witnesses will corroborate Mr Kudhail’s evidence as to the earlier existence of a barbed wire fence which also likely puts the start of the breach of planning control prior to 2002.

“The appellant will say he used the appeal site land in the 10-year period from moving in to redeveloping the house in 2012.

“[He] takes exception to the smearing or mudslinging comments along the lines of land grab.

“He wanted a buffer between his house and the woodland, being so close up against it. The serious sexual assault which took place in the woodland in or around 2017 also caused him to fear for his family’s safety.”

Jonathan Clay, representing Walsall Council, said: “There can be no doubt encroachment of use devalues the open space and changes its natural dense wooded character to a domestic suburban character with clutter and domestic paraphernalia with ugly high fencing.

“He effectively seeks to confiscate an area of long established mature woodland for personal and private use.

“The headmistress of Blackwood School describes it as a land grab. At the risk of being accused of mudslinging, I would say that is exactly what it is.”

Steve Randerson, chairman of the Foley Woods Residents’ Association, said there had also been other attempts by residents to claim huge chunks of the woods, which are subject to separate enforcement actions.

He said: “Many of these residents have grown up living around and using the woods and others moved in because of the presence of the woods and the wildlife it contains.

“The actions of the appellant and two residents … are causing a great deal of distress to residents and there is huge concern if the developments are not ended it would mean the end of Foley Wood.”

The inquiry will resume at a date to be decided.

Words: Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter

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