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We have slated as ‘crude and ill-informed’ proposals for village greens and public paths in the report of the Farming Regulation Task Force (the Macdonald Report), ‘Striking a balance: reducing burdens; increasing responsibility; earning recognition’.
Says our case officer, Nicola Hodgson: ‘the proposals are crude because they are the work of an obviously vested interest seeking to curtail public rights, and ill-informed because they ignore the evidence in relation to village greens and developers, path claims and agriculture.’
Nicola explains: ‘The task force has concluded that applications for village greens and public paths are stifling development, yet the group has not carried out an independent survey to back up this sweeping statement, nor has it consulted the Open Spaces Society for its views.
‘An independent survey of village green applications published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2009 showed no evidence that people were applying for greens in order to thwart development.
‘People apply for greens and paths on the grounds that they have used them for 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission. Once the 20 years’ use has been achieved, the land is a green, and the route is a public path, regardless of whether it is recorded as such. The registration of greens and paths is merely confirmation of their status—and the applicants should not be required to pay for the process as suggested by the task force.
‘The task force wants government to “address the proliferation of inappropriate village green designations”, but there is no such proliferation. It wants the government’s proposed green-space designation to deal with its concerns about greens. We have argued that the green-space designation is badly needed in addition to the process for registering land as greens—which is a recognition and recording of historic use. We have also suggested small amendments to the greens-registration process to speed it up and make it more efficient,’ says Nicola.
‘The group states, in its letter to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Jim Paice: ‘we have only looked at regulations unique to food and farming’. But the regulations for greens and public paths are certainly not unique to food and farming, so we cannot see why the task force was concerned with them.’
Adds general secretary Kate Ashbrook: ‘We are also dismayed about the task force’s attack on public paths. It wants the government to implement the cut-off date of 2026 for the claim of historic paths, which entirely favours landowners, but it does not call for counterbalancing measures in the interests of the public.
‘Implementation of the cut-off date was only a small part of the national stakeholder group’s report “Stepping Forward”. This group, which consisted of representatives of user groups, landowners and local authorities, produced an agreed package of measures to improve the process for recording historic rights of way. However, the group was determined that these measures must be implemented as a package, and that government must not pick and choose from them.
‘There is no evidence that the claiming of public paths is in general interfering with development.
‘The task force seems paranoid about the effect of greens and paths on its interests. It should accept that where historic rights exist they should be recorded and available for the public to exercise. We shall fight any plans to do away with the system for registering greens and paths which are of vital value to the public.’