Government plans a threat to village greens and sports areas, warn campaigners

Campaigners are calling for changes to a proposed law they say will make it impossible to safeguard village greens and other beloved green spaces from development.

Two charities, the Open Spaces Society and Campaign to Protect Rural England, are urging the government to rework its Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which includes a clause on registering land as a town or village green.

"Without changes to clause 13, the bill would make it impossible for local people to record and safeguard their green spaces if the land has been earmarked for planning and development," they said.

They spoke out after Defra published a summary this week of responses to its consultation on town and village greens. Current law allows locals to register land as a village or town green if it has been used for informal leisure for at least 20m years.

Thousands of sports pitches and greens had been saved from being built on, said Open Spaces Society case officer Nicola Hodgson. "The Government says it must make these changes in the law to stop so-called ‘vexatious’ applications for new greens.

"This is because, it claims, they are delaying development and incurring long delays, uncertainty and costs to local authorities and landowners. But it has provided no evidence of the number of such cases or that village greens are stifling growth."

In 2009 there were about 185 applications for new greens out of about 400,000 planning applications, she said. Greens’ applications were "a drop in the ocean" and would hardly impinge on the development big-picture.

CPRE rural policy campaigner Emma Marrington said: "The proposals to make it more difficult to register new town and village greens, on the basis that some applications have delayed or stopped development, are a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut. 

"It is worrying the Government chooses to portray town and village greens as a barrier to growth, rather than a key protection for spaces that are highly valued by communities across the country. 

"Tests for registering village greens are already onerous. We fear this proposal will lead to an inequality of arms between local communities and housebuilders who are banking more and more land and want to steamroller councils into developing land that should be protected."

Defra said changes would allow locals to decide what was appropriate, while planning approval for building was only ever given after public consultation. It was wrong that "reactive" and "vexatious" applications for new greens should overrule local decisions.

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