‘Our green spaces are under unprecedented threat as the law on town and village greens is in the balance.’
So declared the Open Spaces Society’s chairman, Chris Beney, at the society’s annual general meeting in London on Thursday (11 July).
‘Only recently the courts ruled that 380 square metres at Vowley View, Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire could not be registered as a green because the entire town vaguely was identified in the local plan as eligible for potential development. There are communities up and down the country who will now not be able to register their treasured open spaces as greens, and thus secure their rights of recreation there and protect the land from development.
‘And next week two test-cases go to the supreme court for determination—13 hectares at Moorside Fields in Lancaster, owned by Lancashire County Council as education authority, and 2.9 hectares of Leach Grove Wood at Leatherhead in Surrey owned by NHS Properties Ltd.
‘The two cases were heard together in the court of appeal,’ Chris explains. ‘The society’s member Janine Bebbington, acting for Moorside Fields Community Group, had applied to register the land as a green. The court dismissed an appeal from Lancashire County Council against the registration of the land. It also upheld an appeal by Timothy Jones against Surrey County Council’s failure to register Leach Grove Wood.
‘The question common to both cases was whether the fact that the land was held by a public body (ie Lancashire County Council and the NHS) for the performance of its statutory powers and duties made the land incapable of being registered as a town or village green, since registration requires local people to have used the land for informal recreation for 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission.
‘If those seeking to register their greens lose these cases, it will be another bitter blow for town and village greens, potentially putting at risk any land which is held by a public body.
‘We shall keep a close watch on these cases and trust that the courts will uphold the rights of local people to enjoy the land they love,’ Chris concludes.