UK: Town And Village Greens: Pulling Up The Stumps?

Last Updated: 5 November 2012
Article by Jo Hannah

For a number of years now objectors to development have been wise to the fact that registration of land as a Town and Village Green (TVG) will stop development and applications to register land have been on the increase.  Applications will succeed if local people can show that a significant number of inhabitants who live in the locality or neighbourhood within a locality of the land have used it for lawful sports and pastimes as of right for a period of 20 years. 

Last year, Defra consulted on changing the goal posts (to mix my sporting metaphors) on the circumstances in which an application can be made and all went quiet until recent publication of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill which contains proposals to curb what the government calls a misuse of TVG applications to undermine planned developments.

The Bill contains provisions which, if enacted, will severely curtail the circumstances in which applications for registration can be made.

One provision in the Bill is to allow an owner of land to deposit a statement and plan, in the prescribed form, with the relevant Commons Registration Authority.  If they have done so, the statement will bring to an end any period during which people have indulged, as of right, in lawful sports and pastimes. 

Depositing a statement is likely to flush out applications from people who think that the land has already been used as a TVG for 20 years before the submission of the statement but they would have to make such an application within two years of the date of the deposit in accordance with Section 15(3) of the Commons Act 2006.  Depositing a statement would not stop a new period of use commencing but owners can deposit further statements on a periodic basis to stop 20 years accruing. 

The ability to deposit a statement would be particularly useful where owners do not want to go to the expense of fencing off their land or are happy to let people use the land until it is ready to be developed.  It also removes the need to put up signs on the site and having to replace them if they get knocked down.

The Bill also contains exclusions to when an application can be made to register land.  These are where the land is included for development in any planning application, a draft or adopted development plan document, a draft or adopted neighbourhood development plan, saved development plans and urgent Crown development.  There is also an exception in relation to land included in applications for Development Orders relating to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

The exceptions will cease to apply if planning permission is refused or if the relevant policy in plans and draft plans is withdrawn or superseded.

The time during which applications are not allowed to be made will not count towards the two year period in which an application for registration of a town and village green must be made following the stopping of the recreational use. For example, if the ability to submit an application is stopped on the publication of a planning application, objectors will have two years from any refusal of the permission to put it in a TVG application.

These provisions may cause a flurry of TVG applications where local people fear that land may be proposed for development either by an application for planning permission or within a local plan but the provisions will give certainty to developers that applications will not surface at a late stage if objectors have not been successful in opposing development through the planning process.

The exclusions are to apply even though the events leading to the exclusion happen before the Act comes into force but they won't apply to TVG applications made before the Act comes into force.  These will be determined in the normal way.

The proposals have prompted outrage from special interest groups who consider that local peoples' rights are being taken away from them.  But conversely, it seems sensible and fair that the use of land should be determined through the planning process where local people have the opportunity to make their views known and taken into account as part of the planning process.  We will have to see if the provisions of the Bill stay as they are now once the Bill is enacted but if they do, it is good news for developers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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