Defra drives a bulldozer through village greens law

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We have slated the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for driving a bulldozer through the laws for registering land as a new village green.

Herbrand Walk Beach might not have been registered as a village green if there had been a ‘character test’

The society has responded to Defra’s consultation on the registration of new town or village greens. At present land can be registered as a green if it has been used by local people for informal recreation for 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission. Once registered, the land is protected from development.

The society is angry that Defra presents its proposals as an all-or-nothing package which would, the society says, ‘destructively reform’ the law.

The society also objects to Defra’s proposals to:

• introduce a ‘character test’ which would severely limit the land that can be registered as a green,

• rule out registration as a green where a site has been designated for development,

• prevent an application for land where a planning application has been submitted or on which there was statutory pre-application consultation,

• charge applicants a fee of up to £1,000.

Says Nicola Hodgson, our case officer, who advises our members on their applications to register land as greens:

‘We are dismayed that Defra is pressing for a wholesale reform of the greens registration process. While we have for two years advocated improvements to the system, to make it swifter and more transparent (which we have discussed with ministers but have apparently been ignored by Defra), we see no need to rewrite the law on registering greens.

‘Defra argues that greens applications are being used to frustrate development but it has no evidence of this. The greens registration process requires 20 years’ use by local people so they can hardly dream up evidence to thwart a planning application which is determined in a small fraction of that time.

The village green at Coatham Common, Redcar might also have failed a ‘character test’

Character test
‘Defra wants to restrict registration to greens which “accord with the popularly held traditional character of such areas”, ie land which is “open and unenclosed in character”.

‘This would be disastrous as countless areas would be excluded, such as those post-industrial sites which may be the only open spaces available to local communities.

These much-loved, out-of-the way places are just as important as the traditional chocolate-box greens in the heart of villages. Indeed, greens registration is localism at its best, where local people vote with their feet.

Planning applications
‘We strongly oppose the notion of preventing registration of land once a planning application has been submitted or the land has been identified for development in a local plan. At the very least, before a planning application is determined, there should be a period during which local people can submit evidence that the land is a green.

‘We disagree with the imposition of a fee on applicants. They make the application for the public’s benefit, to record the rights that have accrued there, not for personal gain. And many applicants come from areas with low incomes, whether in the inner city or countryside, and would be deterred by such a fee.

‘We have expressed many concerns, and reiterate our proposals to improve the process by introducing time-scales, greater consultation and liaison between authorities, landowners and applicants, and better guidance. That is all that is needed.

‘We strongly suspect that these proposals are intended to allow more development of our precious green spaces. The society will fight them all the way,’ Nicola concludes.

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