Growth & Infrastructure Act 2013: Focus on Town and Village Greens

Trevor Ivory, Howes Percival LLP

The designation of a site as a town or village green ("TVG") is often the end of the road for a landowner's aspirations to develop land.  Once land has TVG status it  is almost impossible to get rid of it and any development other than for public recreational purposes becomes a criminal offence.  This is why a TVG application is the nuclear weapon in the armoury of anyone looking to oppose the development of a site.

The all too frequent use of a TVG application to prevent development in recent years has prompted the Government to include new laws in the Growth & Infrastructure Act 2013 ("GIA") that are designed to address some of the issues faced by landowners and developers.

Under the Commons Act 2006 ("the 2006 Act"), any land can be registered as a TVG if it can be shown that a significant number of the inhabitants of a locality, or a neighbourhood within a locality, have, for a continuous period of not less than twenty years, used the land as of right for the purposes of lawful sports or pastimes.

The Courts have consistently interpreted the tests loosely, making it ever easier to make a successful application.  We have also noticed an increase in the number of TVG applications since the passing of the 2006 Act, which made a number of changes intended to make applications easier; including giving an applicant a two year period after the use of the land is interrupted in which to bring an application.

The GIA makes three key changes that seek to tip the balance a little more in favour of development (although they only apply in England):

  • The GIA reduces the period of time in which a TVG application can be made after the use of the land is interrupted from two years to one year.
  • The GIA enables a landowner to make a formal statement to the commons registration authority for the area in which the land is situated  in a form to be set down in regulations.  The effect of this statement will be to act as an interruption of any period of use that is on-going.
  • The GIA also prevents a TVG application being made once the land is allocated for development (including being identified in a draft Local Plan document) or is the subject of a planning application.  This moratorium on on an application being made lasts until the land is no longer allocated or is no longer subject to a planning application or planning permission and no development has taken place.

The first two changes do not come into effect immediately as they require the Government to bring forward regulations.  The last change came into effect immediately and so is already offering many development sites immunity from a TVG applicaton being made, although it does not affect any TVG application that was sent to the commons registration authority prior to 25 April this year.

While TVG applications will continue to be an issue for landowners who do not take steps to control public access to their land, these changes give a well organised landowner a much better chance of controlling and managing the risk and also go some way to removing the threat that currently hangs over developers or a TVG application being used as a last-ditch attempt to prevent development from happening.

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