Changes to village green rules lead to clash over rural housing

Changes to the way in which village and town greens are registered have been announced by the Government, leading to clashes between those seeking to encourage the development of housing and business in rural areas on the one hand, and conservationists hoping to protect green space on the other.

The Government had already introduced new rules which meant that an application to register open space as a village or town green could not be permitted if a "trigger event" had taken place in relation to the land. Trigger events include the designation of land as a development area in a council's local plan. The rule change was intended by the Government to prevent campaigners blocking development by applying for protected status for land retrospectively.

The new rules, announced on 1 October, take this further by reducing the amount of time that may elapse between recreational use of a piece of land ending and an application to protect it as a green being made to one year; and the introduction of new rights for landowners to prevent their land being designated as a green through the issuing of 'landowner statements'.

Announcing the changes, Rural Affairs Minister Richard Benyon said, "Towns across the country have been held back from getting the developments they want through misuse of the village green system. Rural communities need access to services like healthcare, schools and housing just as much as urban areas. These changes will allow that infrastructure to be built, creating jobs and economic growth."

The Government claim that the changes will save local authorities £1.3m annually in reduced planning enquiry and appeal costs, and will reduce planning costs to businesses by £3.4m.

The changes are backed by the National Housing Federation. Their assistant director of policy and research, Stuart Ropke, said, "Many rural communities want new homes, but opponents have often abused the system and attempted to declare available land a village green. Closing this loophole will help rural communities get the homes they so desperately need – housing local people, keeping schools and post offices open and helping rural communities to stay alive"

However, not all have welcomed the new regulations. The Open Spaces Society said that the Government was targeting the wrong problem, and claimed that the number of greens applications made in response to planning applications is "miniscule".

In a statement, they went on to say that "What [the Government] fails to acknowledge is that when local people have used land for a long time for informal recreation, they grow to love it, and they assume it will always be there. When it is threatened, of course they want to protect their rights to enjoy it — and greens registration is the means to record their rights. Communities may want some developments but they also want their village greens which they have enjoyed for decades."

The Society urged communities to identify land that they want to see protected and begin the process of registering it as a green before development proposals are made, not afterwards.

You can find out more about the changes to the regulations and how to go about registering land as a town or village green on the Defra website.