Hannah Quarterman considers recent changes to the town and village greens regime and asks whether the balance has now tipped in favour of the developer. 
 
Town and village greens (“TVG”) have long been a thorn in the side of developers and, in recent years, have increasingly been used by local residents to thwart development. However, the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 made a number of changes to the TVG regime, seeking to redress this balance. Many, though, would say that the shift has gone too far.
 
Registration of land as a TVG is a serious concern for a landowner as it effectively sterilises that land, preventing all future development. To be successful, an applicant must show that the land has been used for lawful sports and pastimes, as of right, for at least 20 years. Even when an application for registration fails, it can cause serious problems by stalling development and exposing the landowner to significant costs.
 
The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 made a number of changes to the TVG regime, including:
  • a right to make a “Landowner Statement”;
  • the reduction of the “grace” period during which a TVG application can be made; and
  • suspension of the right to apply for registration of a TVG in certain circumstances.
Landowner Statement
The right to submit a Landowner Statement to the registration authority means that landowners can now bring all potentially qualifying use of the land as a TVG to an end by lodging a statement in a prescribed form with the registration authority. This statement does not prevent the future registration of the land as a TVG, but brings any qualifying use to an end, and hypothetically erects a giant, impenetrable fence around the whole site. This statement will be of particular use where a landowner cannot hoard off its site completely, either due to practical reasons or because it is necessary to permit some level of access, for example, if there are footpaths crossing the site. It will also be useful when selling land. A copy of the statement could be provided to potential purchasers as irrefutable evidence that any TVG rights will have ceased to accrue on the date of the statement.
 
The one disadvantage of adopting this route is that the making of the statement must be advertised by the appropriate authority. This could alert potential TVG applicants to the need to submit an application as soon as possible.
 
Reduction in grace period
 
Previously applicants had a two year “grace period” from the date on which use as a TVG ceased in which to submit an application for registration of the land as a TVG. This meant that land owners could board off their land and prevent all public access, but still be at risk of a TVG application for a further two years. This period has now been reduced to one year, giving landowners a little more reassurance. 
 
Suspension of right to register
 
Finally, the Act has introduced a new concept of periods during which an application to register land as a TVG cannot be made at all, even if qualifying TVG use is continuing. It sets out certain “trigger events” and corresponding “termination events” and if a trigger event occurs, no application to register land as a TVG can be made until the corresponding termination event also occurs. These trigger events are broad ranging and include the advertisement of a planning application and the publication for consultation of a draft development plan which identifies the relevant land for development. As a result, for the first time, once an indication to develop the land is published, it may be too late for a TVG application to be made. It is hoped that this will prevent local residents using the regime as a way to thwart otherwise acceptable developments. The contrary view is that it is often only when development is proposed that residents are prompted to apply for registration. These measures may mean land, which should be protected as a TVG, is built upon. 
 
As a result of these three changes, although registration of land as a TVG is still a risk, a landowner now has significantly more power to manage this riskboth in terms of taking action to prevent use as a TVG continuing, and in being able to suspend the right to make an application for registration at all.