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Figures published today by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) do not show that there was a need to change the law on village greens. Last year the government passed the Growth and Infrastructure Act which outlaws the registration of land as a green where it is threatened with development, arguing that people were abusing greens registration to stop building.
Defra has published its biennial survey of the commons registration authorities in England (county and unitary councils) which are responsible for the registration of greens. At the time of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill it only had out-of-date figures, to September 2011.
Says our case officer, Nicola Hodgson: ‘Once again we see that Defra has acted on dogma not evidence.
‘During the passage of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, Defra claimed that there was an increase in the applications to register land as greens because people were applying vexatiously, to stop development. Defra had little evidence to support this contention, and its latest figures do not show this trend either.
‘The latest research shows that the number of greens applications has only increased marginally, from 123 in 2011, 132 in 2012 and 122 in 2013.
‘There is a backlog of 305 applications, and there has been an increase in the number of public inquiries held into contested applications. However, the average cost to authorities is only £11,000 per application, whereas the hype which accompanied the Growth and Infrastructure Bill led us all to believe the costs were much higher.
‘The Open Spaces Society presented ministers with a set of alternative proposals, to streamline, accelerate and improve the process, without needing to change the law. If our scheme had been adopted there would now be less of a backlog, fewer public inquiries and the costs to authorities would be significantly less. Unfortunately, our helpful proposals were ignored.
‘We are concerned that the Welsh Government is set to copy Westminster and to make it harder to register greens. We are promoting our alternative proposals with the Welsh minister in the hope that he will adopt them.
‘We note from the Defra research that there has been an increase in the number of voluntary applications by landowners to register land as a green, from seven in 2011 to 25 last year, and we welcome this. We have urged local councils in particular to consider voluntary registration. This gives local people rights of recreation on the land and protects it from development,’ says Nicola.
The Defra report can be found here.