Town and Village Green applications: Protecting your land for development

Friday 9th January 2015

Commercial litigation solicitor, Samantha Bell, recently defeated an application to register “Church Fields” in Ramsbottom, Lancashire as ‘common land’, specifically a village green. Over a three day hearing, evidence was heard about the former use of the land but the legal test for registration of the land as common land was not met.

For a local authority to register common land, applicants must prove that a significant number of inhabitants of a locality or neighborhood have used the land for lawful sports and pastimes, as of right, for 20 years.

We objected to the application on behalf of landowners, Peel Investments (North) Ltd and a Public Inquiry hearing was held in March 2014.

Local residents gave evidence of the land’s use, both for and against the application, but Inspector Alan Evans of Kings Chambers, Manchester, found that no qualifying ‘neighbourhood boundary’ had been identified. This is a niche legal point as it was noted that the term ‘neighbourhood’ is “deliberately imprecise”. This was a positive result for the landowners Peel and the deadline for the decision to be judicially reviewed has now passed.

Applications

Anyone can apply to register privately owned land as a town or village green at little cost. Local residents often make applications to try and prevent development near them. These applications are a real risk to landowners and developers as, once a site is registered, it is illegal to build on it and no compensation is payable for its lost use.

Many applications are decided by Public Inquiry, where all the evidence is assessed. For landowners, gathering evidence is inevitably difficult as they must prove a negative and many local people may be unwilling to help them.

What can developers do to prevent an application?

While many town or village green applications used to be the result of planning applications by developers, here Ramsbottom residents wanted to prevent Peel, a major landowner and investor in the surrounding area, from developing land where no planning application had been made.

Since April 2013, however, new legislation means that applications to register common land cannot be made once an application for planning permission has been published.

All land is potentially at risk until then and buyers should carry out searches for registrations and applications as part of their early site assessments. Landowners should ensure that they keep updated land management records and can demonstrate signage, fencing and other restrictions to public access. They should also consider making an owner’s declaration to end any period of qualifying use of the land.

For further information please contact Samantha Bell on 0113 227 0213 or at samantha.bell@gordonsllp.com.