An inquiry into an application for land to be registered as a village green began at Luton Town Hall on Monday.
The land in question is the open space behind Butely Road and Ickley Close, which residents have been fighting to protect from housing developers for months.
Luton Borough Council is both the registering authority and the objector to the application, as it has already granted planning permission to Catalyst Housing group to build 56 houses on the land.
Village green applicant Martin Stiff, of Butely Road, said: “It’s a David and Goliath scenario. We’re Joe Public, up against a barrister. We don’t know how these things work. It’s a steep learning curve but we’re certainly doing our best.
“As a tax payer I’ve already paid for the council’s barrister out of my council tax, and then we have to fund our own case.”
Independent legal expert Stephen Morgan is carrying out the non-statutory public inquiry due to the council’s conflict of interest.
The council has hired a barrister to represent its case, and the total legal and inquiry costs are expected to be less than £20,000.
Mr Stiff is taking three days off work for the inquiry, and he and the rest of his group say they have spent hundreds of hours preparing their case.
Nine witnesses for the applicants were heard on Monday and Tuesday. Two witnesses for the opposition – parks and cemeteries manager Barry Timms and the council’s head of fixed assets Roger Kirk – spoke yesterday afternoon.
Mr Morgan will consider all evidence and then make a recommendation, which is not expected for a few weeks.
If the application is rejected, 56 homes will be built on the land, including 13 for social housing which are part of The New Homes for Luton Project.
A council spokesperson said: “The New Homes for Luton Project is absolutely essential to deliver affordable housing for Luton and reduce the acute shortage of housing in the borough for local people. Most of the brownfield sites in Luton are not owned by the council and because of the lack of government funding, we can’t afford to buy them to develop them. Using council land is about the only way to provide new affordable housing.”
However, one of the points being disputed in the inquiry is whether the land does belong to the council.
Anyone can apply to register land as a green if it has been used by local people for sports and pastimes ‘as of right’ for at least 20 years.
However, reforms in the Growth and Infrastrucure Bill 2012-13 which reached committee stage yesterday, would exclude new greens applications for land which has planning permission or is identified for potential development in a local or neighbourhood plan.