Proposed legislation on registration of village greens would reduce risk to developers. Eollyn Ives, solicitor in the property team at Devonshires Solicitors, explains
The consultation on the registration of new village or town greens under the Localism Bill opened last month and runs until 17 October.
The bill proposes to make pre-application consultation with local communities compulsory on major development schemes. It also proposes to give local planning authorities the power to decline village green applications on land where planning permission has already been granted, together with the power to seek costs against applicants for any vexatious, frivolous or unsuccessful applications.
This latter issue was tabled on the eighth day of the House of Lords committee stage with the aim of stopping what Conservative peer Baroness Byford described as ‘vexatious use of the towns and village greens registration system to delay or block legitimate development’.
Under the proposed reforms, developers and developing social landlords will be sure, once planning permission has been granted, that they will not face losing developments as a result of the delay caused by village green applications. Many local authorities take a cautious approach to village green applications, holding public inquiries which can result in planning permissions expiring before applications are determined, delaying the development process.
The status quo
The current system does little to deter these applicants as it enables applications to be made after planning permission has been granted and even up to two years after the land has ceased to be used by residents for lawful sports and pastimes. It also prevents costs being awarded against applicants. As a result, applicants frequently form local pressure groups aimed at preventing development and enlist help from conservation group the Open Spaces Society to mount their claim.
Recent cases have shown that applications for little more than occasional dog walking can be enough to establish the use of land for lawful sports and pastimes.
The proposed changes would reduce the risk that developers currently face by stopping retrospective applications for village green status after planning consent has been granted and extending the powers of local authorities to reject applications.
In response to the amendment tabled by Baroness Byford, fellow Conservative Earl Attlee stated that the government is ‘actively looking at whether amendments to the registration criteria are needed’. He added: ‘There is a consensus that local authorities should be able swiftly to reject vexatious applications.’
Earl Attlee hopes to announce a response on the subject of village green applications later this summer and, as a result, the amendment proposed by Baroness Byford has been withdrawn.
Social landlords should welcome this: there is a clear need to stop retrospective and vexatious village green applications delaying or stopping development.