Village-green system not being increasingly abused: our response to Defra

1 October 2013

We have responded robustly to Defra’s press release today (1 October), New measures to increase rural home-building. This is about the new regulations in England which have been introduced today to restrict applications to register land as a town or village green.

Defra claims that the new measures will stop the village-green system from being abused and that ‘loopholes in the system have increasingly been abused by people looking to stop local development’.

We say: ‘Defra has little evidence that the system is being increasingly abused. The number of greens applications made in relation to planning applications is minuscule. In fact the number of greens applications has dropped between 2008 and 2011.’

Defra claims that ‘legitimate applications will remain well-protected’.

‘Not so’, we respond. ‘The Growth and Infrastructure Act outlaws an application for a green on any land earmarked for development, so even if people have enjoyed 20 years of informal recreation there — which means the application is legitimate — they cannot apply to register the green.’

The rural affairs minister, Richard Beynon, claims that ‘towns across the country have been held back from getting the developments they want through misuse of the village-green system’.

We say: ‘This is a sweeping statement with little evidence. What Defra fails to acknowledge is that when local people have used land for a long time for informal recreation, they grow to love it, and they assume it will always be there. When it is threatened, of course they want to protect their rights to enjoy it — and greens registration is the means to record their rights. Communities may want some developments but they also want their village greens which they have enjoyed for decades.’

The new regulations which take effect today in England mean that local people must submit their application within one year of their use being challenged, instead of two years as previously. Furthermore, landowners can deposit a statement with their registration authority (county or unitary council) to bring an end to any period of recreational use of land and this will be recorded in a register.

We are deeply worried that local people may not be aware of the landowner statements and that the clock is ticking. While the notice must be posted on the land for six weeks, there is no requirement to replace any which are removed. One year is a short time in which to gather evidence and submit an application. So communities must be super-vigilant and act fast to gather evidence of use once they have been challenged.

It’s vital that communities identify now any land which might be eligible as a town and village green and apply to register it. Our book, Getting Greens Registered, tells them how to do this.

Read Kate’s blog here.

Trap Grounds green, Oxford.

Trap Grounds green, Oxford.