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Reinforcing the green belt – coming soon to a village green near you

Gary Pickard


United Kingdom

Reinforcing the green belt – coming soon to a village green near you

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Reinforcing the green belt – coming soon to a village green near you

After years of relatively few cases being decided on town and village greens, these days seldom a week goes by without another case popping up in the Courts.  This is being driven by a realisation that classifying land as a town and village green is an effective way to stop redevelopment.  Simply lodging an application may buy enough time to make the deal uneconomical.  There are also a few statutory deadlines for applications coming up shortly which are driving the current applications.

This batch of recent cases has made it very clear that town and village green registrations are something that need to be looked at extremely carefully whenever you are looking at a piece of open land, whether for development or loan collateral purposes. 

What can be registered as a town and village green is being construed very generously and looks to include:

  • A piece of land far removed from the typical town and village green, including swamp areas in one instance.

  • Any land over which people enjoy "lawful pastimes".  These need not be sporting activities or hobbies but could be simply walking dogs.
  • The areas involved can be extensive; two recent cases have involved registrations of areas in excess of 40 acres.
  • The actual body of persons enjoying the right may not be an extensive as you might think; it can be a body of neighbouring locals and not the whole of a town or village.
  • It appears that beaches may also be potentially registrable as a town or village green.
  • The widening of the categories of persons who could claim the rights in 2000 is retrospective in effect. 
  • Even though a registration might have been incorrectly made, it is not guaranteed that the registers will be rectified to remove the registration.  The Courts will look at the justice of doing so in each instance.  Long delays and the fact that the land might have changed hands at a reduced price because of the registration will potentially weigh against rectification.

As a prospective purchaser or lender, what can you do to safeguard your position?  It would seem that you should do the following as a minimum:

  • Make sure you thoroughly inspect any open areas to look for signs of public access/use.
  • Repeat the inspection at various times of the week and day.
  • Vigorously question the current landowner as to the steps it has taken to avoid rights arising and press for clear documentary evidence of these steps.  Such evidence would ideally include detailed logs as to the erection of prohibition notices, fences etc.
  • If the land is subject to a registration then contest this quickly.
  • This is currently a rapidly expanding area of law with some fundamental changes coming through – old (or even not so old) advice needs to be rechecked.

Please do get in touch if you would like further information. 

Gary Pickard, Director, in Real Estate at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP

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