Sometimes local councils have to make decisions about how best to use land they own, particularly in a climate of continuing local government austerity.

Public open spaces – recreation grounds, parks and gardens – will often be highly valued by local residents for their leisure amenity.  Such land is not immune from development. However its loss will rarely be without a local residents’ campaign to save it.

So, when might a council, properly and carefully using its extensive powers, make a decision to develop green space?  And what might a council and its local residents need to be aware of?

A recent court case involved a council wanting to use part of a recreation ground it owned to extend classrooms and outdoor facilities for one of its primary schools.  First, an historic protective covenant limiting the use of the land had to be modified (by decision of the Upper Tribunal).  Then, an appropriation for education uses was made, following a council resolution that, in strictest terms, the land was no longer “required” for leisure purposes.

Green space that is registered as a town or village green larger than 250 square metres has additional protection.  If it is to be developed some other land has to be provided in exchange.  Special Parliamentary procedures can apply, which extend to compulsory acquisition of open space, common land or allotments.

If the green space isn’t registered as a town or village green, local residents may try to make an application for registration protecting it from future development, but this is not an easy process.  Often council-owned open space will have been made available to the public for use by permission, so one of the vital tests (that use is ‘as of right’) for establishing village green rights won’t exist. 

Local residents might seek protection through dedication of the land as Local Green Space.  This can be done in a local plan, or a neighbourhood plan, but only when that plan is being prepared or reviewed.  Residents must pick their time carefully for such designation