Has the UK Government blundered in its attempts to protect landowners from local people applying to turn land into “village greens” to keep development at bay? There is good reason to believe that a new law intended to keep land safe for development could result instead in great swathes of English and Welsh countryside being turned into village greens. In fact landowners who takes advantage of the Section 15A amendment to the 2006 Commons Act to protect their development options may find themselves hoist with their own petard.
Land with village green status cannot be built upon or driven over. Applications to turn a piece of land, public or private, into a village green have been possible using ancient rights of “prescription” at Common Law but now via Section 15(1) of the Commons Act 2006. This (unamended) says anyone “may apply to the commons registration authority [eg county council] to register land to which this Part applies as a town or village green”; and at S.15(2) it explains this applies when
“(a) a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years [the prescription period]; and (b) they continue to do so at the time of the application”.
It is these rights the current Government sought to curb by allowing landowners to register potential town or village greens (TVG) with their county council, with the legal effect of halting the “lawful sports and pastimes” (though not necessarily doing so in practice).
But instead of curbing TVG applications the notices pinned to posts near popular walks or fields will alert locals that the land might be exposed to development if they don’t act. Their only logical response would be to put in village green applications wherever they can justify them. And in England they have only a year to do so from the publication of the notices.