We want to stop the grassland opposite our homes being developed. Can we do this by registering it as a Village Green?
It has been used without let or hindrance by the public for recreational purposes for more than 20 years. Would this exclude it from the ‘development site’? MT
Residents may be able to register a local grass area as a village green to protect it from developers
MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth said: More housing is required in this country, but new developments need to be carefully thought through.
We only need to look at the cladding scandal to see how poorly devised schemes can ruin the lives of both homeowners and their communities.
Council planners need to look at how plans to develop areas can benefit both prospective new homeowners and the community that they are moving into.
Access to green space is key to that process, and registering an area as a village green is one way of protecting spaces for community use. We find out if it can be used in this case.
Stephen Gold, a retired judge and author, explains: Maypole dancing, playing cricket, lying on the grass, bird watching, or walking the dog.
If a sufficient number of locals have been up to this sort of activity on a piece of land for at least 20 years, then any of them could apply to their local authority to have that land registered as a town or village green.
That’s thanks to the Commons Act 2006, which specifies the required use as ‘lawful sports and pastimes’.
It must have been done openly and not under the cover of darkness, without the landowner having actually given permission for the activity – and without using force. Jumping over a fence? ‘If you don’t let me carry on dancing, I’ll biff you.’ None of that.
Why register the land as a village green?
Registration does more than provide confirmation that the right exists for locals – they are actually defined as ‘inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality’ – to use the land as they have been doing. It effectively scuppers the landowner from developing the land.
In the past, there has been too much scuppering. Because so many registrations were being used to delay planning applications or to frustrate owners from taking advantage of planning permissions they had obtained for their land, the law was changed. Enter the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013.
That has done away with the ability to register if one of some 14 events has occurred. Crucially, those events include not only the grant of planning permission for the land but the making of a pending application for permission. However, the right to register would be revived if planning permission is refused or any permission that has been granted is not implemented within its lifetime.
Also, preventing registration would be the identification of the land for development in a draft development plan document which has been adopted or put out for consultation.
If a planning application relating to the land in question is pending, this will prevent an application for registration as a village green
Lessons for the landowner
It should not be a strain on the landowner to prevent use of their land qualifying for registration.
Stop the use, if necessary, through a court injunction or fencing off the land so that it cannot be accessed.
Or make it clear that they permit the use but may withdraw permission when they chose, which can be done by displaying a notice on the land which says so.
There’s a more definitive and simpler way. It is using the system introduced by the 2013 Act and involves depositing with the local authority a written statement and plan. The statement proclaims that the owner wishes to bring to an end any period clocked up towards the 20 years. This is exactly what it will do: stop the clock.
The locals could restart counting towards another 20 years of enjoyment of the land, but the owner could then deposit another statement which would restop the clock. And so on and on and on.
And after 20 years…?
Where 20 years are up but no registration has taken place, the owner can still deposit a statement and plan.
This would have the effect of setting a limited period during which any registration by locals can be applied for – one year for land in England and two years for land in Wales. After that, too late for the locals. This is risky for the owner, though, because the belated statement will be publicised by the authority and so will alert the locals to the fact that, if they want registration, they need to pull their fingers out.
So where does this case stand?
I understand that a planning application relating to the land in question is pending.
This will prevent an application for registration as a village green of any part of that land. If the application is withdrawn, refused, or not activated in time, registration could then take place.
But in so far as the planning application may not extend to some of the land over which the locals have enjoyed their pastimes, registration could still go ahead. The plans put in with the planning application should be scrutinised with a microscope.
Stephen Gold is a former judge and author of ‘The Return of Breaking Law’. For more information, go to see breakinglaw.co.uk.