Campaigners have put every local authority in England and Wales on alert – against the threat to village greens.
The Open Spaces Society launched its Green Alert! campaign this week to remind planners that any bids to build on commons and greens need special scrutiny. Most applications will need the approval of the Secretary of State or the Welsh National Assembly.
The society says some cases are getting approval without being referred. Examples include fencing on common land at Headley in Hampshire; a wind turbine at Kentmere, within the Lake District national park, and an access track at Bicknoller in the Quantocks.
Nicola Hodgson, the OSS case officer, said: “Commons and greens are vitally important to the public and should be protected.
“Yet planning applications are sometimes granted which adversely affect commons and greens, and the applicant is ignorant of the law governing these precious places.
“So we have written to all the planning authorities asking that, where it appears that a planning application might affect a registered common or village green, they check whether it does. If it does, we urge them to take the law of commons and greens into account when determining the application.”
Any application for ‘works’ on greens and commons – any buildings or fences, for instance – must have the public interest in the common taken into account.
Ms Hodgson continued: “For village greens, works will be unlawful unless they are for the better enjoyment of the green by local people – which means that most works there can’t go ahead.”
Most common land has an owner and the concept predates the Enclosure Acts, when land was appropriated by those who could afford to build walls and hedgerows to enclose land. Previously, villagers had rights to collect wood, graze animals, cut turf and other ancient privileges.
Village greens are protected from development in a similar way, local people enjoying the legal right to informal recreation on them. Any works on commons and greens need the additional consideration of the higher authorities, in addition to local planning permission.
Other cases turned up by the OSS where Department for Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs or Welsh Assembly consent has not been obtained include a building connection at Conistone in the Yorkshire Dales; two separate commons in the North York Moors national park and a bungalow at Llangoed on Anglesey.