Over the past few years, local authorities have been inundated with claims that land which is ripe for development should be registered as a town or village green. The registration should occur if the land has been used by the inhabitants of a local authority, or a neighbourhood within the locality as of right, i.e. without force, secrecy or permission for at last 20 years prior to making the application with the local authority or, since 2007, they may still make a claim for up to two years after ceasing to use the land for their lawful pastimes or sporting activities. Once an application (which is currently free of charge) is made, the average claim takes something in the region of 16 months for the authority to process, even if it finally fails.
As no development of any kind can occur on town and village green, and there is no right for vehicle access across the green, an application is a very fruitful way of stopping development and applications have been made on the basis of pastimes such as picnicking, blackberry picking, having a 5 November bonfire, sledging, and the ubiquitous dog walking.
Faced with such a plethora of applications, it was inevitable that legislation would be passed to deal with this sooner or later. As we shall see, some of the provisions came into force sooner than we imagined.
The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 received the Royal Assent on 25 April 2013. Now an application for a village green cannot be made if a planning application in relation to the land has been published or if the land has been designated as development land in a draft local development plan or a neighbourhood development plan, or in the consultation thereto.
Originally the Government were stating that this provision would not come into force until two months after the Act received the Royal Assent. There was, however, a last minute change of heart and, presumably to prevent a huge influx of applications, the relevant section (16) of the Act came into force immediately on 25 April.
In addition, in the future, a landowner will be able to submit a plan with the local authority that a particular parcel of land is not being used as of right, in which case, unless there is already the requisite 20 years user, there cannot be a village green application. This will save great expense as the current alternative is to fence off land and put up and maintain signage. Furthermore, regulations will reduce the time period of non-use of land before losing the ability to claim village green from two years to one. Neither of the latter provisions is yet (May 2013) in force.
The above changes, and a detailed knowledge thereof, are essential for anyone involved in the acquisition or disposal of development land.
Should you have any further questions in relation to Town and Village Greens, effects of the Growth and Infrastructure Act, or on any other subject, please do not hesitate to get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.