A PARISH council, which has run up a £15,000 legal bill in its battle to save a village's allotments, has been stunned to discover it has been defeated at a public inquiry - and tax payers must foot the bill.

Barton, near Scotch Corner in North Yorkshire, has been split by the wrangle since 1999, when some of the village administration's former members decided to terminate the lease on the land.

Following uproar about the decision, the policy was reversed, but landowner Edward Hall said he was unwilling to consider a new agreement.

The new-look parish council then persuaded Richmondshire District Council to support a Compulsory Purchase Order. But a ruling by an inspector from the Government Office for Yorkshire and the Humber could settle the matter once and for all.

Susan Holland, from the Government Office, has concluded there is no evidence of a real desire for allotments plots in the village and she has ruled against the order.

"We are bitterly disappointed," said parish councillor Alen McFadzean, who works at The Northern Echo.

"This is a defeat for community values and social justice. It means the losers will be the pensioners and the unemployed, who will lose their right to grow their produce, while yet another community facility seems set to disappear."

The parish council is arranging an emergency meeting to discuss its next move, but the 370 households in the area are facing having to pay the parish council's legal bill.

The costs will mean the precept to be added to this year's council tax bills will total £20,000 - a four-fold increase on the usual £5,000, costing each home about £50.

"That sort of money could have been spent on better things. The village hall needs a new roof for a start,'' said district councillor, Campbell Dawson, who was one of the original parish council members to recommend termination of the allotment lease. He has since opposed the compulsory purchase of the land.