As part of its aim to simplify planning and encourage development, the Government is proposing new legislation that affects the registration of land as town and village greens (TVG's).
TVG's are areas of land that are used by a local community for sport or other pastimes, including picnics, fêtes, dog walking and other similar activities. Currently, people can register an area of land as a TVG if they are able to prove that it has been used by local people for at least 20 years without being secretive, forcing their way on to the land or obtaining permission from the landowner. Once a piece of land is registered as a TVG it is unlawful to build on the land or interfere with the local communities' right to use it.
Housing developers have claimed that TVG applications are being misused to stop them developing land. Councils have also claimed that improper applications to register land as TVG's are not only costing taxpayers a great deal of money, but are preventing the development of affordable housing and the creation of local jobs.
Under current legislation, a development that has been granted planning permission or is undergoing a consultation can be delayed while a TVG application is considered. It is possible to make a TVG application several years after an area of land has been fenced off and local inhabitants have been prevented from using it. It is even possible for houses to be built, bought and lived in before an application is made. If a TVG application is successful, a landowner may have to demolish any buildings already constructed on the land. Opposing a TVG application can be very costly and time consuming and the costs of opposition can not be recovered.
The Government introduced a new Bill in October 2012 which intends to put a stop to improper applications and reduce 'red tape'. The Bill proposes to allow landowners to make a statement that will protect their land from registration as a TVG. If the Bill becomes law a piece of land will no longer be able to be registered as a TVG if developers have already applied for planning permission to build on the land or it has been identified for development as part of a local or neighbourhood plan. The Bill is currently being considered by the House of Lords and the Government hopes it will be passed in April 2013.
While the Government's plans are likely to be welcomed by developers, some campaigners have expressed concern that the proposals will prevent communities from protecting their public spaces. Whether the Government's proposals will strike the correct balance between preserving green space and encouraging development is yet to be seen.