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Antony Antoniou – Luxury Property Expert

How to use an 1857 law to beat the developers

How to use an 1857 law to beat the developers

How to use an 1857 law to beat the developers

The Village Green Protection Law: A Boon for NIMBYs

What is a Village Green?

When picturing a village green, most people envision an idyllic square with a pond, cricket pitch, and war memorial. However, thanks to an 1857 law, even the most unlikely locations like scrubland, disused quarries, and car parks can officially be classified as village greens – the highest form of land protection in the UK.

Village greens have become the holy grail for NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), who strive to secure this classification for local plots of land, regardless of size or condition. Once granted village green status, these spaces are shielded from development indefinitely, irrespective of ownership.


A Recent Example

Last month, a resident in Bristol – where over 40,000 people are on the housing waiting list – was blocked from building a home at the end of his cul-de-sac after neighbours secured village green status for the plot. The neighbours argued that the land is used for summer picnics, occasional tea parties, and as “a place to stop and chat” while taking a shortcut to the nearby Tesco.

The Legal Requirements

For land to become a village green, residents must prove it has been used for “sports, pastimes and recreation” for at least 20 consecutive years.

How to Secure Village Green Status

Ashley Clark, who masterminded the successful bid for Britain’s biggest village green stretching 52 acres in Whitstable, Kent, advises that “there is no time like the present” for those wanting to secure village green status.

“Applicants have got to crack on as soon as possible, before developers start putting signs up. The clock effectively starts ticking once a developer gets hold of the land, as you can’t register after a planning application has gone in,” he explains.

The Process

The Government advises people to submit an application to the top-tier local authority for the area, and the relevant form can be found online. There is no fee to apply.

“You do it by basically taking questionnaires or statements from people,” Clark says. “You don’t have to get thousands, but provided you can get people saying that ‘yes, I’ve used the land for a number of years and seen others doing the same’, then you have a good chance of it being registered.”

Applicants should also gather evidence like police records to bolster their case. The relevant local authority will determine the application, but if there is contention, it could end up going to a public inquiry.

Voluntary Registration

In the past two decades, landowners have also been able to voluntarily register their plots for village green status.

“A landowner can create a lasting legacy by registering their land as a village green,” Clark explains. “All they have to do is produce a map, fill a form in and declare there are no ties on the land. You don’t have to prove 20 years of public use. It’s very simple.”

Recent Successes

Elsewhere, residents in Ashford, Kent, recently bagged village green status for a narrow 1.25-acre plot close to the town’s Sainsbury’s, while campaigners still await a decision on a field in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

Walking the dog, kicking a ball about, flying a kite or picking blackberries are examples applicants can cite as evidence of recreational use.

The Ultimate Protection

According to Clark, village greens are the pinnacle symbol of land protection. “Village greens are the Rolls Royce as they cannot be topped,” he says. “They are indefinite and protected in perpetuity.”

While other forms of land protections like Sites of Special Scientific Interest, ancient woodland and local wildlife sites exist, Clark argues they “don’t come near to village greens” as “they are still subject to the planning process, so they don’t have the same level of protection.”

“Once somewhere is registered as a village green, no one can develop or enclose it,” he adds.

Challenges from Landowners

Landowners can fight back by challenging the decision in the courts, as is the case with an ongoing feud over a recreation ground in Stoke. However, deep pockets are needed to cover the lengthy legal process.

In 2021, transport company TW Logistics lost a 13-year legal battle against residents in Mistley, Essex, after campaigners secured village green status for a concrete quayside.

Criticism and Opposition

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, has previously criticised the nationwide application process for welcoming “malicious, vexatious and incomplete proposals” for “clearly ridiculous” village greens. It claimed the vast number of bids was hitting taxpayers in the pocket and blocking housebuilding, though the LGA declined to provide its current viewpoint.

Rico Wojtulewicz, of the National Federation of Housebuilders, says: “We are hearing people saying it’s coming up more often.”

Such action can frustrate developers, prevent councils from hitting housebuilding targets, and scupper even the smallest of planning applications, as seen with the Bristol case in Henleaze.

One objector to the village green proposal in Henleaze expressed disappointment that neighbours “feel some kind of entitlement to demand access to someone else’s property and to determine what they may, and may not, do with it,” calling it a “narrow-minded ‘Nimby attitude'”.

Other unsuccessful bids include a tiny grassy triangle in the remote Cumbrian village of Rosgill and a 40-metre stretch on a Horsham estate used for Clap for Carers and VE Day parties.

Wojtulewicz argues the village green law is “fragmented” and doesn’t consider local housing needs. “We broadly welcome the opportunity to safeguard community land, which can be fantastic, but it’s a fragmented approach that gets abused by people who haven’t thought about the broader community needs,” he says. “You’re giving a few people more power, which then means development can be blocked and there’s no plan for where else it can go to address the housing need.”

Developers’ Countermeasures

Clark warns that developers have grown wise to village green applications. “They buy land and immediately put signs up saying ‘private land’ or ‘entry is permission only’. Once they do that, it effectively prevents a village green application,” he explains, as “access is denied, people can’t then prove they’ve used it continuously for 20 years.”

Local authorities provide guidance to landowners on how to blockade village green attempts from locals. For example, the Isle of Wight Council suggests that a “landowner could do several things, fence the land off so securely so that it is not used ‘as of right’, or if he doesn’t mind people using the land he can display notices so as to give permissive rights which can be withdrawn at any time, or restrict access and maybe charge people for using it”.

Obstacles to Village Green Status

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill 2013 states that locals cannot register a piece of land as a village green if developers have already applied for permission to build there. Applications will also fail if the land in question is identified for potential development in a local or neighbourhood plan.

However, most bids fail due to the 20-year rule, which requires proof that the land has been “used by local people for lawful sports and pastimes ‘as of right’ (i.e. without permission, force or secrecy) for at least 20 years”.

In summary, while the village green law provides a powerful tool for NIMBYs to protect local spaces, it has also faced criticism for hindering housing development and being susceptible to abuse. As the battle between residents and developers continues, the interpretation and application of this centuries-old law will likely remain a contentious issue.

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