The registration of town and village greens has become a topical issue due to the recent case of The Church Commissioners for England v Hampshire County Council and another  EWHC 1933 (Admin).
The interested party submitted an application to Hampshire County Council to register land as a village green. Applications must be made within 5 years from the cessation of the use of the land for lawful sports and pastimes. The application in question was submitted within this period but contained deficiencies.
The Council allowed time for the application to be put in proper form but this was not finally done until after the 5 year period. The question the court had to decide was whether the application was submitted out of time and so invalid, or whether it could have retrospective effect such that it was to be regarded as having been made within time. The court held it was the latter.
The Court stated it was Parliament’s intention to balance the rights of landowners and local residents who had been exercising the rights necessary to establish a town or village green. It was noted that since many applications for town or village greens are made by parties without legal assistance, and the rights sought are for the benefit of the public applications should not be defeated by technicalities.
This can be seen as an applicant-friendly decision and it could be argued that the court’s reasoning appears to undermine the certainty of the five-year limitation period.
Landowners opposed to town and village green applications should be pro-active in expressing their dissatisfaction if the relevant local authority delays in making a decision or grants the applicant more time to complete the necessary paperwork. Had the Church Commissioners done so in this case there may well have been a different result.
Although this particular decision was applicant-friendly, applicants should err on the side of caution and not rely on this case. It is important to submit a complete application in accordance with the 2007 Regulations well in advance of any deadlines, notably:
- The correct form should be used.
- It should be signed by every applicant.
- There must be relevant supporting documents.
- A statutory declaration should be attached.
- The land concerned must be marked by distinctive colouring on an Ordnance map with a scale of not less than 1:2,500.
The Church Commissioners v Hampshire decision seems appropriate for appeal. If so it will be interesting to see what approach the higher court takes.