The great unwashed can now take action when they see common land being abused.

New laws came into force at the weekend that give anyone the right to launch a court case if ‘unlawful works’, namely fences and buildings, are erected on commons. Previously, only local authorities could go to court, and they were often reluctant.

The new law, the Commons Act 2006, is a victory for the Open Spaces Society (OSS), which has been fighting for the right.

Nicola Hodgson, the OSS’s case officer said: “We have long campaigned for this law. Too many of our commons are abused by unlawful fencing, buildings and car parks, erected without the consent of the Secretary of State.  Yet the public has been powerless to act.

“Until now, we have had to rely on local authorities to take action but they have been unwilling to do so because for them it is only a power and not a duty.

“From 1 October, members of the public, including our society, may apply to the county court for the removal of unlawful works erected on commons in England since 28 June 2005. 

“While this is a great step forward, we are sorry that the powers are limited to encroachments since that date.  Our list of examples of unlawful works all precede that date.  But we shall now be on the look out for new works erected without consent, so that we can take swift action.”

The OSS has published an information sheet telling people how to take action. See grough’s links page for a shortcut to the OSS website.

  • The OSS has welcomed news that a scheme for a windfarm has been rejected by the Welsh Assembly.

The plan would have allowed the building of four wind turbines at Cefn Gwrhyd, north of Pontardawe in Neath Port Talbot. One would have been on common land.

The scheme had already been through the planning process and an appeal.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the OSS, said: “We opposed the application because the wind turbines, with their associated substation, access road and other paraphernalia would have been a gross eyesore on the lovely landscape of this open area.  They would have interfered with the rights of the public to walk and ride peacefully here.

“In his decision letter on the application for works on common land, Steve Jones of the assembly said that the access road and the turbine to be sited on the common would ‘have an adverse effect on the open character of the land and its value for recreation and public enjoyment’.”