The Open Spaces Society’s views on Defra’s consultation on the registration of new village greens, September 2011

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We are deeply concerned about this consultation. We have asked our members for their views and are preparing a detailed response before the closing date of 17 October.

Coatham Common, Redcar, a much-loved space registered as a green in 2010. If Defra’s proposed ‘character test’ had been introduced the registration probably would not have succeeded.

In particular, our concerns are as follows.

1. A package
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) appears to be presenting a package of proposals, ie all or nothing. We have always accepted, indeed advocated, that some changes are needed (see below), but these can largely be achieved by amending the guidance and regulations not the law.

We are concerned that the proposed package is linked to the new Local Green Space designation in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. The two designations should be considered separately. We are told that the new designation ‘will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space’ and is subject to a presumption in favour of development. Local Green Space can only be designated through the local or neighbourhood plan, which is not mandatory and for which there is no funding, so many places do not have them.

Furthermore, since it is proposed that land designated as Local Green Space cannot be registered as a green, the new designation will reduce the land available for greens registration. Therefore, it is misleading to say that Local Green Space is being offered as part of the package for greens, when even if it satisfies the criteria for greens registration, it cannot be registered as such.

2. The character test
We oppose the introduction of ‘a character test to ensure that greens accord with the popularly held traditional character of such areas’. Defra proposes that land should be open and unenclosed in character and also suggests that the land should, for instance, be in the heart of the settlement, be irregular in shape and have historic characteristics. It seems that Defra wants only to preserve those chocolate-box spots in the centre of villages. Such a restriction goes against the legal basis of registration, which is that land has been used by local people, for lawful sports and pastimes, for 20 years without being stopped and without permission.

At present it is possible to register any bit of land which has the qualifying use, however scruffy. The much-loved, out-of-the-way places are just as important, and people’s use of these spaces is a splendid example of localism.

3. Relationship with planning
We also deplore the proposals to rule out making a greens registration application where a site has been designated for development in a proposed or adopted local or neighbourhood plan, or where planning permission has been given. We propose that a reasonable period is allowed, before any of these actions take place, to enable local people to gather and submit evidence of the existence of a green.

4. Charging a fee
Defra proposes that applicants for greens should be charged a fee of up to £1,000 (possibly refundable where the application is granted). We oppose this because many applicants come from areas with low incomes, whether in the inner city or the countryside. In any case, they are applying for the benefit of the public, not for personal gain.

Open Spaces Society’s proposals
Nearly two years ago, we put proposals to the environment minister for improving and streamlining the process for registering new greens. These required changes to regulations and guidance rather than legislation.

Our proposals include:
• introducing time limits for every stage of the process,
• a basic evidential test so that registration authorities can reject applications which don’t have sufficient evidence,
• consultation between the registration authority, applicant and landowner to see if agreement can be reached at an early stage, perhaps to register a smaller area,
• avoiding the employment of costly lawyers to determine applications,
• much greater liaison between planning authorities and registration authorities so that each knows what the other is doing on a piece of land.

Unfortunately, few of these have been adopted in the consultation paper.

We urge members of the society and others to respond to Defra’s consultation before 17 October 2011.

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