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We are delighted that a National Assembly for Wales Committee is calling for better protection of village greens.
The report of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, which is scrutinising the Planning (Wales) Bill, states that ‘the provisions of the Bill in relation to town and village greens, as currently drafted, have caused us some concern’. The Bill contains draconian measures to make it much more difficult for local people to register their much-loved green spaces as town or village greens.
Local people can apply to register land which they have used for informal recreation for 20 years without interruption, challenge or permission. Once registered, the land is protected from development.
The committee recommends that the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant AM, makes three amendments to the Bill to protect town and village greens. These recommendations are similar to those proposed by the society which presented evidence to the committee last December.
The first recommendation is to remove the ‘trigger’ events from the Bill. The proposed ‘triggers’ would prohibit village green applications where land is identified for development, including in draft plans, even before the public has had the opportunity to comment on the draft.
The second recommendation is to remove from the Bill a provision which will reduce the period within which a town or village green applications can be made, after use is challenged, from two years to one year. The committee recognises that the public needs two years in which to gather the necessary evidence of use and submit an application for registration of land as a green.
The third recommendation is to remove from the Bill a provision for fees to be set for applications to amend the town and village green register.
On the first recommendation, the Minister gave further evidence to the committee on 14 January 2015 and confirmed that he was prepared to amend the bill so that a village green application could be made up to the time a planning application is determined.
Says Nicola Hodgson, our case officer: ‘We were concerned that the Welsh Government was copying the Westminster Government’s Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 which makes it significantly harder to register village greens. We are delighted that the Committee has recommended changes to make the Bill much less damaging, and that the minister has indicated his intention to make amendments.
‘It is crucial that local people, who have established rights to use the land for recreation, are allowed to have their evidence considered at the same time as any planning application, and this would avoid delay. The society has also urged the Minister to consider its proposals to improve the village green process and make it more transparent for all parties.
‘Furthermore, community groups who make these applications to protect their much-loved and valued green spaces should not have an additional burden of finding the money for fees when the application is for the health and well-being of the community.’
The Society gave oral evidence to the Committee on the 11th December 2014 highlighting the Government’s impact assessment of the Bill, which said that only six or seven town or village green applications were made in Wales each year. There is no evidence that these applications are having any significant detrimental impact on the Welsh economy.