Landowners can stop the clock on public usage rights

19 August 2014

Public use of privately owned open spaces is on the line following the introduction of legislation that allows landowners to bring to an end recreational use of land as a village or town green.

Areas of open space used by local residents for recreation and playing lawful games can be registered as village or town greens after they have established 20 years’ use and can show that the land is being used ‘as of right’.  To establish that right, the land must have been used without permission, but without force or secrecy. Once land has been registered as a green, it is then protected from development by longstanding legislation.

And whilst the classic image of a village green is where cricket is played on summer days, it does not have to be green or grassy.  Recent cases have seen a seaside beach and a golf course successfully claiming village green status, in battles with developers that have gone as far as the Supreme Court. 

But now, new legislation opens the way to stop the clock ticking towards 20 years. 

Section 15 of the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 came into force on 1 October 2013 and it amends the earlier Commons Act 2006 by allowing landowners to register what is known as a ‘statement’ to bring an end to any recreational use of land as a town or village green.

By making this statement, the landowner will interrupt any 20 year period and this will stop anyone from being able to register the land, as it effectively puts the clock back to zero.  It can start ticking again, but the landlord can effectively break the usage each time before it reaches 20 years, thereby protecting their potential development rights.

Where land has already passed the 20 year usage, but has not been registered, the new law still allows landlords to make the statement, but this will trigger a one year grace period in which an application for village or town green status could be made.

Said property law expert Keri Burton of  Chelmsford solicitors Gepp & Sons : “In the past objectors to potential planning applications have often tried to register land as a village green to prevent development and a surge of applications for registration are likely when communities find out about the new rules.”

She added:  “There’s likely to be quite a few sprints going on, with landowners racing to register a statement and local people racing to make an application to register the land as a village green.  Either way, we’re expecting to see a big rise in activity on this front. ”

The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.