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Government attacks the village green
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Plans to change the law on registering land as a town or village green should be reconsidered, say campaigners. If the government have their way it could become impossible for local people to record and safeguard their green spaces if the land is earmarked for planning and development.
Government attacks the village green

The Open Spaces Society and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, among others, are campaigning to amend what they see as excessive measures in clause 13 of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill to change the law on registering land as a town or village green.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has just published the summary of responses to its consultation last year on town and village greens.

Nicola Hodgson, Case Officer of the Open Spaces Society, said "The Government says that it must make these changes in the law to stop so-called “vexatious” applications for greens which, it claims, are delaying development and incurring long delays, uncertainty and costs to local authorities and landowners. However, it has provided no evidence of the number of such cases, or that village greens are stifling growth".

"In 2009 there were about 185 applications for new greens, compared with about 400,000 planning applications—so greens applications are a drop in the ocean and hardly going to impinge on the development big-picture. And of course the fact that local people are getting together to register land as greens shows that the land is important to communities".

The consultation by Defra last year asked a number of questions. It suggested that local authorities should be empowered to sift applications which are clearly speculative. This proposal was supported by more than three quarters of the respondents (76 per cent), yet Government has ignored it. This could be achieved by changing the guidance not the law and would be of benefit to everyone.

Moreover, respondents proposed that timescales should be introduced throughout the process to ensure there were no delays, but this too has apparently been ignored. Both the OSS and CPRE welcome the fact that Government has dropped the proposed character-test. The test would have restricted the type of land that could be registered as a town or village green.

Emma Marrington, Rural Policy Campaigner for CPRE commented: "The proposals to make it more difficult to register new town and village greens, on the basis that some applications have delayed or stopped development, are a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut. There may be legitimate concerns about a small number of these applications, but it is worrying that the Government chooses to portray town and village greens as a barrier to growth, rather than a key protection for spaces that are highly valued by communities across the country.

"The tests for registering village greens are already onerous. We fear that this proposal will lead to an inequality of arms between local communities and housebuilders who are banking more and more land and want to steamroller councils into developing land that should be protected."

Hodgson concluded "There is little support for the measures which have been included in the Bill and our organisations will be continuing to scrutinise the proposals.’

Land can be registered as a town or village green if it has been used by local people for ‘lawful sports and pastimes’ (ie informal recreation) for 20 years freely and openly. The registration authority is the county or unitary council. The legislation which protects greens from encroachment and development is section 12 of the Enclosure Act 1845 and section 29 of the Commons Act 1876.

The Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body. It campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them.

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