The village green preservation society

    The Village Green Preservation Society.  Or not.

     

    The struggle over the village green
    The Commons Act 2006 and it’s predecessors allowed communities to apply to register rights of recreational use across land, which would become a Town and Village Green, which allows for an overriding right of recreation for the general public.  To successfully register, applicants would need to demonstrate 20 years of uninterrupted use.  In more recent years, the registration of Town and Village Greens has been used as a way to successfully stall or halt development as well as registering third party rights over land, owned publicly or privately.  The intention of the Act was to protect long-established use of land.  It has though, been widely exploited as a method to prevent development and other land use changes.  This has resulted in a closing of ranks by landowners, and in many cases, dispute with local communities.

    Protecting against registration
    The ability for a third party to claim rights over private land causes great concern for any land owner, in the same way that owners of empty properties fear the moving in of squatters.  Land owners were relatively powerless to prevent an application for a Town or Village Green (whether successful or not) and would have to fight an application by proving that they had prevented unauthorised use of the land.  This could be done by cropping the land – and simply grazing would not suffice, or by physically preventing access – typically by erecting and maintaining fencing or signage.  This, most would agree is undesirable in any rural setting.  A landowner must be reluctant to allow informal use of land, which might appear harmless; for fear of a later claim to register adverse rights over the land.   The strict approach to prohibiting permitting public access is perhaps a consequence of the exploitation of series of Government Acts intended to encourage greater access to the countryside.

    What has changed?
    The Growth and Infrastructure Act (2013) received Royal Ascent on the 25th April and many of the sections relevant to Town and Village Greens came into effect on that day.  The Act was intended to be a stimulus to growth and to break down some of the barriers to providing much needed housing.  It provides measures which stop an application for a Town and Village Green from being submitted on areas already identified for development, once certain ‘Trigger Events’ have occurred.  This includes the publication of a planning application or identification of land for development in a Local Plan.  The Act also enables a landowner to submit a declaration of intent not to permit recreation across land, similar to section 31(6) statements presently used to prevent declaration of public rights of way.

    Good for all
    Faced with the prospect of rights in land being eroded, Landowners will naturally assume a very defensive stance.  This typically results in very proactive prevention of access across land, which on the face of it, would do little harm to anyone.  Whilst communities might see the Growth and Infrastructure Act as a licence for landowners to develop land at will, the planning process is very much a force for the protection of areas which need protecting.  In fact, the Growth and Infrastructure Act might have the unintended consequence of allowing landowners a little comfort that the use of land by neighbours and local communities where it is appropriate, can be permitted without the threat of adverse rights being claimed at a later date.  An Act seen as regressive by public access campaigners, might well be anything but.  Perhaps this Act will in fact provide for greater freedom of access to private land.

     
     

    Key contacts

    Philip Eddell

    Philip Eddell

    Director
    Country House Consultancy

    Savills Newbury

    +44 (0) 1635 277 709

    +44 (0) 1635 277 709