The English village green: campaigners say it will be more difficult to register new areas

The English village green: campaigners say it will be more difficult to register new areas

The English village green is at risk from Government plans to change the rules on registering land for local use, campaigners said.

The Open Spaces Society said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ proposals drive a bulldozer through existing laws for registering a new village green.

The campaign group, Britain’s oldest national conservation charity, was responding to the Government department’s plans, the latest to cause consternation for groups fighting to retain public access to England’s countryside.

The row follows the uproar over Defra’s plans to sell off public forest land, which saw more than half a million signatories oppose the proposals, and the planned changes to the planning framework, which have pitted the National Trust against the coalition Government.

The OSS said at present land can be registered as a green if it has been used by local people for informal recreation for 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission. Once registered the land is protected from development.

The society is angry that Defra has presented its proposals as an all-or-nothing package which would, it says, ‘destructively reform’ the law.

The OSS said Defra is proposing to rule out registration as a green where a site has been designated for development and prevent an application for land where a planning application has been submitted or on which there was statutory pre-application consultation.

The campaigning charity also said the Government would introduce a ‘character test’ which would severely limit the land that can be registered as a green, and charge a fee of up to £1,000 for applications.

Nicola Hodgson, the OSS’s case officer who has worked on many applications, said: “We are dismayed that Defra is pressing for a wholesale reform of the greens registration process.

“While we have for two years advocated improvements to the system, to make it swifter and more transparent – which we have discussed with ministers but have apparently been ignored by Defra – we see no need to rewrite the law on registering greens.

“Defra argues that greens applications are being used to frustrate development but it has no evidence of this. The greens registration process requires 20 years’ use by local people so they can hardly dream up evidence to thwart a planning application which is determined in a small fraction of that time.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “To ensure that only genuine applications to protect green spaces are made, we have suggested that applicants should pay a fee, set by their local authority, which should not exceed £1,000.

“The current system has seen local authorities’ time and money wasted on applications for council offices and disused railway lines to be classified as village greens.

“In total, local authorities have spent over £1m a year in legal fees for village green applications, on top of their own processing costs. The suggested fee would recoup a small fraction of that cost.

“Our proposals on village greens, including the possibility that fees will be refunded for successful applications, are part of an ongoing consultation.”

Ms Hodgson said: “We have expressed many concerns, and reiterate our proposals to improve the process by introducing time-scales, greater consultation and liaison between authorities, landowners and applicants, and better guidance. That is all that is needed.

“We strongly suspect that these proposals are intended to allow more development of our precious green spaces. The society will fight them all the way.”

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