“Our green spaces are under unprecedented threat as the law on town and village greens is in the balance.” So declared the Open Spaces Society’s chairman, Chris Beney, at its annual general meeting in London today.
“Recently the courts ruled that 380 square metres at Vowley View, Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire could not be registered as a green because it, and indeed the entire town, was just vaguely identified in the local plan as eligible for potential development. There are communities up and down the country who will now not be able to register their treasured open spaces as greens. This means that they are neither securing their rights of recreation there nor protecting the land from development.
“Next week two test-cases go to the supreme court – 13 hectares at Moorside Fields in Lancaster, owned by Lancashire County Council as education authority, and 2.9 hectares of Leach Grove Wood at Leatherhead in Surrey owned by NHS Properties Ltd.
“These two cases had been heard together in the court of appeal,” Chris explained. “This society applied to register the land as a green. The court dismissed an appeal by Lancashire County Council against the registration of the land. It also upheld an appeal by Timothy Jones against Surrey County Council’s failure to register Leach Grove Wood.
“The question common to both cases was whether the fact that the land was held by a public body for the performance of its statutory powers and duties (by Lancashire County Council and the NHS in these instances) made the land incapable of being registered as a town or village green. Registration requires local people to have used the land for informal recreation for 20 years ‘as of right’, ie without being stopped or asking permission.
“If those seeking to register their greens lose these cases, it will be another bitter blow for town and village greens, potentially putting at risk any land which is held by a public body. We shall keep a close watch on these cases and trust that the courts will uphold the rights of local people to enjoy the land they love,” Chris concluded.
Barbecue on Vowley View green space.