There has been much confusion and consternation of late over whether controversial new planning rules will result in more of our village greens being bulldozed and built on. Much opposition to building development has been centred on medieval land rights which have been asserted by campaigners to scupper new schemes. In addition, the Commons Act 2006 states that an application for a town or village green can be made if a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years (section 15).
Ministers now say that the rules have been used unfairly to block essential housing development.
Campaigners fear that our green spaces will undergo a slow death from creeping planning blight as there will be nothing in place to stop such developments if the old land rights are scrapped. The onus is now on communities themselves to identify land which they have used as a village green for at least twenty years and register it as such. The caveat is that applications for green land have been outlawed for land already earmarked for development. Applications must be submitted within one year just cut from two years - of a landowner challenging use of the land for informal recreation. The rules state that land which is owned by a landowner but used regularly by local people should be kept from development.
The problem appears to be that loop holes that allow communities to overturn proposed development are increasingly being closed. The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs introduced its first curb in April when attempts to register greens on land already earmarked for development were outlawed. Prior to that, many local development had been scuppered after objections were lodged. The Department called these successful campaigns to save our village green, planning loopholes that are repeatedly being abused by people looking to stop local development.
A second new regulation to come in this month will allow developers to make landowner statements which mean they can allow local people to use their land, but can stop it being registered as a village green. Issues can arise if residents start to use the site, and developers should put up signs to state that access is by permission only to avoid a situation where a site becomes a green by stealth.
Landowners may be content for their property to be used by others until it is needed. However, where one or two individuals persistently remove signs advising that access is by permission, or make gaps in fences, landowners may feel it is prudent in the long run to bar all use of the land. If enacted, the changes will put the onus on local communities to register town and village green rights in a timely manner.