England's green spaces are at risk, the society said

England's green spaces are at risk, the society said

Britain’s oldest national conservation organisation has launched a three-pronged campaign to help save England’s green spaces.

The Open Spaces Society said the lack of new local green spaces has led to an unbalanced approach to protection of open land.

The coalition Government’s Growth and Infrastructure Act made it impossible to apply to have land declared a village green if development was planned on it. The setting up of local green spaces should have seen a growth in applications to have new open areas registered.

But the OSS says this has not happened. It has produced a toolkit to help communities protect and preserve their open land. The society also called on planning authorities to look favourably on requests to save these local spaces.

The toolkit has three handbooks: How to win local green space through neighbourhood plans; Community assets and protecting open space; and Local green space designation. The society has written to all the English local planning authorities calling on them to be proactive in designating land as local green space through neighbourhood plans.

Nicola Hodgson, the society’s case officer, said: “The national planning policy framework has been in place for three years, with its opportunity to designate land as LGS. Yet only a few have been designated.

“Moreover it has for four years been possible to list open spaces as community assets, but few have been registered. The society wants to make it easier for communities to rescue their threatened open spaces.

“We want to help people to list open space as a community asset. This is an alternative way to protect land or buildings because listing is regarded as a ‘material consideration’ in planning.

“We are alarmed that some authorities are not abiding by the Department of Communities and Local Government’s guidance and are granting planning applications despite land being listed. This has occurred in the London Borough of Hackney where listings have been ignored.

“It is becoming more difficult to list open spaces. The data collected by Development Control Services from 134 local planning authorities shows that only half the open space nominations succeeded. This is a worrying trend which must be addressed. Our guidance will help local people to succeed.”

She said the LGS designation was intended to mitigate the ‘draconian’ Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 which prohibits an application for registration as a village green on land that has entered the planning system. “But we haven’t seen this mitigation; the law has stopped many legitimate applications for greens without giving us any LGSs in return,” Ms Hodgson said.

“We are concerned that the national planning policy guidance gives inadequate advice on the designation of LGS. The definitions of what might constitute LGS are vague. The public is left in the air, without any clear guidance on how to proceed.

“There is no nationally prescribed process and so it is left to local planning authorities to decide how to determine any submissions for LGS.

“We want the authorities to be proactive in helping communities identify and designate LGS in the neighbourhood planning process, and we want them to look sympathetically at all applications for LGS.

“Our letter urges them to do this and tells them about our guidance.”

The OSS put forward instances of where opportunities have been missed to protect green spaces, including Thame in Oxfordshire, where locals were not made aware of the process, meaning green space is now vulnerable to development.

In North Dorset, the LGS designation is merely being used to secure land which is already protected, not to save threatened open spaces, the OSS said. And in Backwell in Somerset, developers instructed barristers to object to designation of land as LGS in the neighbourhood plan. At the examination hearing the examiner proposed deletion of these policies and the land will not now be protected, the society said.

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