We have called for public paths, common land and town and village greens to be protected when land is sold. We want questions about the existence of these features on a property to be compulsory, so that a prospective purchaser knows about them before he or she buys the land. At present these questions are only optional and it is possible to buy a property without knowing that the public has rights on it.
The society has responded to a consultation by the Law Society which is updating the forms for prospective purchasers. However the consultation was limited and the society has called for more fundamental changes than the Law Society is proposing.
We have argued that questions about the existence of public paths, including claims for public paths, common land and town and village greens should be on the list of compulsory inquiries. Too often purchasers discover later that land that they have bought has public rights over it.
In the case of a path the public right is to pass and repass on foot, horseback, bike, by carriage or in a vehicle, depending on the status of the route. For a common, the public has the right to walk (and on some to ride), and on a village green local people have rights of recreation. It is illegal to obstruct a public path, or to encroach on or develop a green or, without ministerial consent, a common. A purchaser of such land would be severely restricted in what he could do.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘It is pretty devastating for a purchaser later to discover that the land falls into one of these categories. Such ignorance has led to problems where paths have been blocked and commons built on. Much private and public money is wasted on these muddles.
‘It is far better to know what you are buying from the start. We hope the Law Society will amend the forms so that these questions are compulsory,’ says Kate.