People vote for village greens with their feet

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We have countered the government’s claim that applications to register land as a town or village green can undermine the democratically-accountable planning process, by pointing out that people vote for greens with their feet.

We have sent a briefing to MPs before the report-stage debate on the government’s Growth and Infrastructure Bill on Monday (17 December), urging them to oppose clause 14 which will prevent local people from registering land as a green if it has been identified for development.
The government proposes to stop people from applying to register land as a green, and thus protect it for ever, once a ‘trigger event’ has occurred. This includes first publication of a planning application or identification of the land for potential development in a local or neighbourhood plan. The trigger event puts an immediate stop to any new application to register land as a green, yet the trigger event may not even be public.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘It is wrong to say that registering land as a green is not part of the democratic process. It is definitely part of that process because people are voting with their feet. Land can only be registered if a significant number of local people have used it for informal recreation for 20 years. Probably many more people will be enjoying the green space than will be aware that there is a neighbourhood or development plan or a planning application in the offing.
‘Taking land for development without giving people the opportunity to record and protect their rights is decidedly undemocratic.
‘Those who use local open spaces are not necessarily clued up about, or involved in, the neighbourhood planning process and they cannot be expected to know or realise that there is a potential threat to their rights.
‘Moreover, those who are aware of neighbourhood planning and other processes may not be the same as those who are enjoying an open space, and thus they are not in a position to know that such land has been used as of right and qualifies as a green.
‘The government wants to stop so-called “vexatious” applications to register greens which, it claims are being used to block development. We advise about 150 community groups and individuals each year on their applications to register greens and we know that few are applying purely to prevent development.
‘However, when people find that land they have loved and enjoyed informally for many years is under threat (sometimes as a result of a planning application) they become aware that they have used it, that they have taken it for granted, and that they ought to try to protect it and their rights there. Most applications are genuine, and most greens which have been registered remain popular places with the public.
‘The government’s proposals will stop genuine applications to record land as village greens, and are unfair to local communities,’ says Kate.

Trap Grounds village green, Oxford. This much-loved space was threatened with development and would not have been registered if the Growth Bill had been in force.

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