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Towns and village greens in 2014: a green light for developers?

29 May 2014

The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 (2003 Act) inserted a new section 15C into the Commons Act 2006 (2006 Act), which came into force last year. 

This introduced a regime of defined "trigger events" which will prevent applications for registration of a Town or Village Green (TVG).

These changes re-balanced the TVG regime in favour of developers and a number of cases this year indicate the courts are also making it increasingly hard to register a TVG.

Ickley Close, Luton

This case related to land in Luton.  In the 1970s, George Wimpey gave the land to the Council for use by residents.  In 2012, Luton Borough Council gave away the land for development of over 50 homes.  Local residents applied for the land to be designated as a TVG.

Planning permission was granted in March 2013 and the TVG application was thrown out on grounds that the Council acquired the land as open space and permitted the local community to use it.

Therefore, local residents were not using the land "as of right" - a key requirement for TVG status under the 2006 Act.

In case you were wondering how the Council could give the land away, this year, following an investigation by an independent expert, the DCLG approved the proposals for the Council to dispose at less than the best price reasonably obtainable. 

Curtis Fields, Dorset

Curtis Fields in Dorset was classed as a TVG in 2001. Betterment Properties bought part of the site in 2004. TVG status was removed in 2010 by the High Court as Dorset County Council had applied the wrong legislation when registering the land. 

In 2012, local residents launched a campaign to uphold registration as a TVG. However, the Supreme Court held this year that the High Court was correct.

The developer has confirmed it intends to build 180 homes over the next six years. However this has come at a cost of over £1 million in legal fees and years of delay.   

Cae Prior Fields, Brecon

This relates to a bid by local residents to turn some fields in Brecon into a TVG. The owner of the land in question has successfully brought an injunction due to a potential conflict of interest. 

The application for TVG status was launched by Powys Council's deputy chairman. 

However, a potential conflict of interest exists, as the decision would be taken by Powys County councillors. A judicial review in June will determine who should decide the TVG application - the landowner has requested an independent inspector, rather than Powys Council.

"Squeezed on both sides"

Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society stated "We are now being squeezed on both sides" ie by the new legislation and the recent court decisions. 

These cases illustrate that campaigners will not only need to overcome the new legislation, but also ensure that their applications are made strictly in compliance with the relevant regime.  Otherwise, their applications may fail on technical grounds or lead to future de-registration. 

This is of course more good news for developers. However, the legal costs and delay caused by these cases illustrate the continued threat of TVGs to development and mostly these were just technical issues.

Developers should remain aware of this and it would be dangerous to act otherwise.