VILLAGE green status for playing fields at Barton Park in Marlborough - which residents are fighting to save from future development - has been debated at a public inquiry.

Campaigners want the popular dog-walking spot, which borders the A4 at the entrance to the town, just before the iconic Marlborough College bridge, to be protected from being built on by granting it common land status.

This week an inspector has heard three days of evidence, due to end today from locals who hope to prove the land is essential to the community and from Wiltshire Council, which owns the land, represented by Jeremy Pike and Marlborough College, represented by Douglas Edwards QC.

The inquiry will assess if the land meets criteria needed to be registered as a village green. It must be proved that the land has been used continuously by residents for 20 years without the express permission of the landowner and, crucially, must not have been specifically set aside for the use of the public in the past. If evidence of this is found, common land status may be granted.

It must be a piece of land which people have used without the express permission of the landowner.

Inspector William Webster, who is holding the inquiry at the Town Hall, said: “If this land was acquired for the public’s use then that changes things. It seems counterintuitive I know, but if the public have a right then their use by law is not qualified to justify village green registration.”

Jacqui Everson, of Barton Park, said: “We moved into the house with one child and one on the way. Our children have now grown up but they still come back regularly and we have grandchildren who enjoy the area. They can run around and we love seeing them use the land with the parents who also enjoyed being there growing up.”

Julie Harding, of Hawkins Meadow, said: “It is a community area, people go there and see people they know and chat, that doesn’t always happen now.”

On Tuesday, the first day of the inquiry, Mr Webster said: “I have been to the site and saw adequate sign of footfall. It was muddy, as is expected at this time of year, but it showed that the site was being used regularly.There were between five and 10 people using the land to dog walk at the time that I was there”

A questionnaire containing the views of 186 residents and 45 witnesses had also been prepared by applicant Ian Mellor and resident Peter May. which was cut short after the inspector ruled to take the evidence in written form.It showed that 147 households used the plot at least once a month. The questionnaire was filled out by 49 per cent of households in the area.

Both Wiltshire Council and Marlborough College were criticised for not being prepared on Tuesday, after the hearing was adjourned in order to allow the teams time to prepare their written arguments. The residents putting the application, headed by Ian Mellor, of Barton Park, agreed that some of their evidence, including a questionnaire showing at least 147 households use the fields at least once a month, could be taken in writing.

Mr Mellor said: “The council has had three years, the college have had three years to prepare for this inquiry, it was set some time ago. All the documents were asked for on December 19. It seems the college and council don’t know what their case is.”

After hearing all the evidence Mr Webster will file a report on the application.

Mr Webster will hear evidence until the end of the day before filing a report. A decision is expected to take a number of weeks.