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Saving Welsh village greens from changes in planning law

The Open Spaces Society opposes the Welsh Government’s draconian proposals in its draft Planning Bill to make it more difficult for people to register land as a town or village green. The government wants to prohibit applications where land has been identified for planning, and to enable landowners to submit declarations to the common registration authorities which put an end to the public’s use of the land as of right.

We are calling on the government to improve the law in favour of the public, and to amend the greens’ guidance to introduce timescales and greater dialogue in the process and to give registration authorities greater powers to reject vexatious applications.

We therefore propose the following changes in law and procedure to safeguard land in Wales which is registrable as a town or village green.

New provisions in planning law

Before allocating land for development, the local authority must be satisfied that the land is not capable of being registered as a town or village green, ie that local people have not enjoyed 20 years use of the land for informal recreation without being stopped or given permission.

If the authority is not satisfied of this, it must give early notification to local people so that they may gather evidence and submit an application for registration as a green if they wish to do so. The authority must allow sufficient time for local people to do this and must not process a planning application until the green status is resolved.

New guidance for greens registration authorities (no change in law needed)

Reduce the time and cost of determining greens applications

1. Tighten up the process whereby registration authorities determine that an application is ‘duly made’, by requiring applications to pass a basic evidential test. For instance, this could be a minimum number of evidence forms (perhaps related to the population of the locality or neighbourhood). If an application does not pass the test, it can be resubmitted with better evidence, but within a limited period.

2. Introduce time limits through the process

At present, the only statutory time-limit in the process is that the registration authority must allow a period of not less than six weeks, after an application has been published, during which objections can be lodged. We suggest the introduction of time limits as follows.

(a) The authority to determine when an application is duly made within x weeks of receipt.

(b) The authority to inform the applicant whether the application is duly made within x days of determination.

(c) The authority to publicise the application within x weeks of determining that it is duly made.

(d) The authority to determine the application within x weeks of the closing date of notice period.

3. The authority to have the power to dismiss irrelevant objections.

4. Applications normally to be determined by written representations or occasionally a hearing, not an inquiry. Use the Planning Inspectorate not barristers as inspectors.

5. Decisions to be delegated to a subcommittee of the registration authority, which meets as often as is necessary to determine them.

6. Introduce a simple appeal process (eg some form of tribunal) for both side, to avoid judicial review.

Deterring vexatious applications

7. Introduce an application fee, which is recoverable if the application is deemed to be valid.

8. Introduce a power to award costs against applicant where application is clearly fraudulent.

Attempting to reach agreement

9. Once application is judged to be duly made, registration authority consults landowner to see if an agreement can be reached, between those with an interest in the land and the applicant, perhaps leading to a voluntary registration of the area, or part of the area, applied for, or for another area in exchange.

Ensure greater awareness between local authority departments

10. Duly-made greens applications to be logged with planning departments, and planning departments to inform registration departments of any planning applications affecting a potential green (CCRI research report 2009, para 7.7.1 and 2[1]). Successful greens applications logged with planning department (7.7.3).

11. Local planning authority to consult commons registration officer in preparing Local Development Plans and LDPs to be sent to commons registration officer on adoption (7.7.5).

[1] ‘Study of determined town and village green applications’, by the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) and Asken Ltd, commissioned by Defra and published October 2009.