Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes of the unprecedented threats to open spaces.
Our green spaces are being squeezed from both ends. Government made it harder to register greens and now a supreme court ruling encourages greedy developers to unpick existing registrations.
Under the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 land cannot be registered as a green if it is subject to one or more planning-related ‘trigger events’—now government has added new ones. When will the attrition stop?
Using another section of this pernicious act, landowners are rapidly depositing statements, challenging people’s use of land ‘as of right’—and giving them only one year in which to apply to register it.
The Welsh government looks set to ape Westminster by introducing similar provisions in its Planning Bill.
But while registering new greens becomes more and more difficult, existing greens have come under threat. Disastrously, the supreme court has resuscitated the moribund section 14 of the Commons Registration Act 1965, which allows anyone to apply for the commons or greens register to be rectified if he or she can find new evidence to counter the registration.
The court ruled that it is acceptable to challenge a registration 12 years after the event, and developers are of course sniffing around to see which other greens can be uprooted, long after we thought they were secure. Many greens are at risk.
Government has still failed to offer any viable alternative to secure good-quality green space close to people’s homes.
Although the ‘local green space’ designation was introduced two years ago in the National Planning Policy Framework, the concept remains shrouded in mystery; such sites are few and it is unclear how to achieve them.
Supposedly communities can submit applications for sites through the local or neighbourhood plans. But we have the award-winning, much-lauded Thame neighbourhood plan in Oxfordshire where residents weren’t told that they could propose land as local green space to protect it from development. So none has been designated and instead much-loved green spaces, part of the historic townscape, are under threat.
This is all of a piece. The better news is that part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 will be commenced throughout England, but this is marred by the fact that over much of the country it will only enable landowners to remove commons from the registers; the public cannot add any. This is apparently because government was lobbied by private owners.
This is government by partisan anecdote. We have seen it happen repeatedly with the present administration which acts on dogma not evidence. We must up our game as the Westminster and Cardiff elections draw near.