Frequently Asked Questions: Open Spaces

Q. What is an Open Space?

There is no universal definition of open/green space, in respect of size, quality or description.

However open space is defined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as land laid out as a public garden, or used for the purposes of public recreation, or land which is a disused burial ground.

Open space may be managed under public or local acts of parliament (such as parks and open spaces held by local authorities under the Open Spaces Act 1906), or under schemes of management (made by local authorities for common land and town/village greens).

Public open spaces are normally for use by walkers, but may include cyclists and other forms of recreation for instance skate boarding.

Q. How is open space protected?

Land may be designated as open space in a local development plan, which contains policies about open space strategy and provision.

In England the National Planning policy framework, revised July 2021, provides policy about open space at paragraphs 92 -103 and there is a Planning Policy guidance website.

In Wales open space policy is set out in Technical Advice Note 16; Sport, Recreation and Open Spaces. Land may be held under local or public acts of parliament which may provide protection.

Land may be protected by covenants governing use of the land as open space.

View our open space toolkit

Q. What are my rights?

There may be rights of access recognised in law and recorded, for example where land is registered as common land or town/village greens, and some public open spaces.

If there is evidence of recreation by custom on an open space then customary rights to use the land may have been established by long use.

Open spaces are often accessed via public paths. Land may have been leased to local councils for recreation and the public then has permission to use it.

Q. What are my responsibilities?

Byelaws may make it a criminal offence to carry out prohibited activities on open space.

Q. Can open space be sold or developed?

Subject to the local policies in a local development plan, if land is held as open space it cannot be disposed of unless the process under section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended) is used.

The disposal must be advertised and objections considered before any disposal can take place.

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