Saving our green spaces

22 September 2014

If you want to save your open space you need to get involved. Our general secretary Kate Ashbrook tells you how.

 

Communities need to be on their toes if they want to rescue their much-loved spaces from developers. The opportunity to register them as town or village greens has recently diminished in England, and the Welsh Government threatens to follow suit (although we are strenuously resisting this).

Kingsmead Field, Kent 2

  • Town and village greens are land where local people have enjoyed informal recreation, for at least 20 years, without challenge or permission.
  • Once the land has been registered by the county or unitary authority (the registration authority) as a green it is protected from development.
  • Greens were first registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965 which allowed a too-short three-year period for registration.
  • Any greens which were not registered by 1 August 1970 ceased to be greens. However, if the recreational use of the land continued, the land became eligible for registration again on 1 August 1990, after a further 20 years of uninhibited use had built up.


Valued recreational spaces of all shapes and sizes

Consequently many communities have been registering greens over the years and these provide valued recreational spaces, of all characters, shapes and sizes. No longer are village greens purely the traditional space in the village centre, with spreading oak-tree and cricket on a summer’s evening. They can be any scrap of land that qualifies because of its use—the patch behind the housing or industrial estate where children play and people gather blackberries for instance.

Impact of Growth & Infrastructure Act 2013

The government, believing (erroneously in our view) that people were registering greens purely to stop development, last year passed the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013. This makes it impossible to register land as a green if it is threatened with development. At one blow, communities throughout England were prevented from securing their much-loved spaces. We fought this strenuously to no avail. We are currently trying to persuade the Welsh Government not to copy Westminster by introducing such measures in its forthcoming Planning Bill.

New threat from landowner statements

Now, in England, there has been a further nail in the greens’ coffin. Since October 2013, landowners have been able to submit to the registration authority a statement and map which challenge people’s informal use of land. Once a statement has been deposited, and notices posted on the site, local people have only one year in which to submit an application to register the land as a green based on 20 years’ use for informal recreation.

We have asked all registration authorities to tell us of any such statements. We pass the information to local members including the local council if it has joined us.

There is no guarantee that a notice will remain on the land for long. Our member Wickhambreaux Parish Council in Kent told us that three notices, erected on Seaton Meadow where a deposition had been made, were removed within 24 hours. The applicant is not required to replace them. So the only way you can be sure of knowing about the threat to your local green space is by getting the council to inform you.

Contact your local commons registration department
 
We recommend that you contact your county or unitary council’s commons registration department and ask to be notified of any landowner statements made under section 15A of the Commons Act 2006. (These may be combined with landowner declarations relating to public rights of way, under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980.)

Once you know of a landowner statement, you can inspect the land to see whether it is eligible to register as a green. Our book Getting Greens Registered helps with this. If the land is eligible as a green, local people have one year in which to gather evidence of use and submit an application. If it is not eligible you might wish to consider alternative ways of protecting the land, such as designation as Local Green Space. Details are on our website here.

You can contact us for further information and help, although the we shall ask you to join if you are not already a member.