Changes to village green law will not fit the bill

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The excessive measures in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill to change the law on registering land as a town or village green should be reconsidered.

So say the Open Spaces Society and the Campaign to Protect Rural England who, among others, are campaigning to amend clause 13 of the Bill.  Without changes, the Bill would make it impossible for local people to record and safeguard their green spaces if the land has been earmarked for planning and development.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has today published the summary of responses to its consultation last year on town and village greens.

Explains Nicola Hodgson, Case Officer of the Open Spaces Society: ‘The government says that it must make these changes in the law to stop so-called “vexatious” applications for greens which, it claims, are delaying development and incurring long delays, uncertainty and costs to local authorities and landowners.  However, it has provided no evidence of the number of such cases, or that village greens are stifling growth.

‘In 2009 there were about 185 applications for new greens, compared with about 400,000 planning applications—so greens applications are a drop in the ocean and hardly going to
impinge on the development big-picture.  And of course the fact that local people are getting together to register land as greens shows that the land is important to communities.’

The consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last year asked a number of questions.  It suggested that local authorities should be empowered to sift applications which are clearly speculative.  This proposal was supported by more than three quarters of the respondents (76 per cent), yet government has ignored it.  This could be achieved by changing the guidance not the law and would be of benefit to everyone.

Moreover, respondents proposed that timescales should be introduced throughout the process to ensure there were no delays, but this too has apparently been ignored.  Both the OSS and CPRE welcome the fact that Government has dropped the proposed character-test. The test would have restricted the type of land that could be registered as a town or village green.

Emma Marrington, Rural Policy Campaigner for CPRE says: ‘The proposals to make it more difficult to register new town and village greens, on the basis that some applications have delayed or stopped development, are a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut.  There may be legitimate concerns about a small number of these applications, but it is worrying that the Government chooses to portray town and village greens as a barrier to growth, rather than a key protection for spaces that are highly valued by communities across the

‘The tests for registering village greens are already onerous.  We fear that this proposal will lead to an inequality of arms between local communities and housebuilders who are banking more and more land and want to steamroller councils into developing land that should be protected.’

Nicola Hodgson, case officer at OSS concludes: ‘There is little support for the measures which have been included in the Bill and our organisations will continue to scrutinise the proposals.’

Newly-registered green at Brighton Road, Holland-on-Sea, Essex.

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