Greens review rejected by experts’ gathering

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The national seminar on common land and town and village greens on 1 July, at the University of Gloucester, rejected the notion of a wholesale review of the laws for the registration of new greens.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, proposed the motion This seminar believes that little change is needed to the current town and village greens regulations. It was opposed by Cameron Watt of the National Housing Federation. After the debate, the majority of delegates voted for the motion.

Says Kate Ashbrook: ‘There is no evidence that the current system is flawed. Of course developers claim that people are making mischievous claims that land is a green in order to stop building. But there is no evidence that this is happening in more than a handful of cases.

‘We often only realise we value things when they are threatened. The same is true for green spaces. When land is threatened, people recognise that they have enjoyed using it for many years and they want to save it. If they have used it for informal recreation for 20 years, without being stopped and without asking permission, they may be able to register it as a green. Registration confirms their rights to use the land for recreation, it does not create new rights. And it protects the land from development.

‘In opposing the motion, Mr Watt grossly exaggerated his case. He ranted that greens registrations were preventing affordable housing.

He claimed, outrageously, that “the current system could leave much of rural England without affordable housing for a generation”. There is certainly no evidence for such a wild statement.

‘And Mr Watt slated those who were applying for registration, saying “No fair-minded person could call these village greens. These vexatious applications have been put in by selfish NIMBYs”. Again, he cannot substantiate such an accusation.

‘We acknowledge that there could be some minor changes to the guidance and practice to improve the process in everyone’s interests. We have said we would accept:
• the introduction of timescales so that the greens registration process is dealt with expeditiously and does not delay development,
• better explanation of the terms in the legislation to avoid confusion,
• greater powers for registration authorities to reject applications which are obviously erroneous or based on inadequate user evidence,
• a power for registration authorities to dismiss irrelevant objections to an application,
• determination of contested applications by written representations, rather than a public inquiry, as the norm,
• encouragement of discussion between the parties to try to reach agreement,
• encouragement of registration authorities and planning authorities to liaise so that there are no surprises.

‘This only needs a few tweaks to the guidance and a circular to the registration authorities,’ Kate continues.

‘The only research on village greens registrations is that commissioned by Defra from the Countryside and Community Research Institute (Study of determined town and village green applications). It does not show there is a problem with the current system. At a time when it is vital to save money, reviewing the greens-registration process is one piece of work which does not need doing.

‘Furthermore, the government has announced that it wants to create a new designation, to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities. It has such a designation already—the town or village green,’ Kate declares.

Listen to Radio 4’s You and Yours broadcast on Monday 5 July here

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