Town and village greens are areas of open space that have been used by the inhabitants of towns or villages for the purpose of lawful sports and pastimes. For both landowners and developers, an important consideration is that if land is formally registered as a ‘town or village green’ it may severely impact the land’s development prospects.
Under the Commons Act 2006, an application can be made to register land as a town or village green where “a significant number of the inhabitants of a locality or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years”.
It is important to note that the land in question can be small, derelict or even overgrown and still qualify (for example the Courts have indicated that even a tidal beach could qualify). Landowners should also be aware that the definition of ‘sports and pastimes’ includes a wide class of activities (e.g. dog walking, picnicking, children's games, skateboarding etc.).
Landowners should consider taking the following action in order to safeguard their land:-
- Inspection Landowners should inspect their land regularly. Individuals trespassing on the land should be approached and asked to leave. A record should be kept of the individuals trespassing on the land.
- Landowner Statement If landowners believe the land is being used for sports and pastimes by local inhabitants, they should consider depositing a landowner statement and map with the relevant commons registration authority. This will interrupt any period of use of the land “as of right” so the clock for accruing the twenty year qualifying period will be reset to zero.
- Consider Farming the Land It could be beneficial for the land in question to be actively farmed as this may deter individuals entering the land and this also stops locals residents using it 'as of right'.
- Records Landowners should keep and preserve information showing the use of the land (for example aerial photographs, cropping records as well as anything which shows the use of the land and nonuse by local inhabitants).
- Signage Landowners should erect signs making clear that the land is private and also take photographs as evidence (in case the signs are subsequently removed).
- Restrict Public Access Landowners should fence off public footpaths so that walkers have to stay on the footpaths and not allow them to stray or picnic on land which is not a public footpath.
- Advertisements Landowners should consider placing advertisements (for example in the local newspaper) making it clear that the land is not open to the public.
- Trespassing Landowners should write to individuals who trespass and seek assurances that they will not trespass again and if necessary pursue proceedings.
- Trigger events Under the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, Town and Village Green applications cannot be made once the ‘trigger event’ of an application for planning permission to develop land being published (please note that different ‘trigger events’ apply in Wales).
Developers should always ensure that proper due diligence is conducted before land (which might be at risk of registration) is purchased with a development purpose in mind. Developers should carry out a careful inspection of the land and ask the seller for any information or proof they may have that those in the locality have not been using the land for recreational purposes. This is essential for developers as Town and Village Green applications can cause frustrating delays, unnecessary costs and in the worst case scenario even end a development proposal resulting in a significant financial loss for the developer.