The Commons Act 2006 permits anyone to apply to register land as a town and village green where a significant number of people from a certain locality or neighbourhood have used the land, as of right, for lawful sports and pastimes for a period of at least 20 years. Registration of land as a town and village green usually means that the land cannot be developed (which is likely to substantially affect its value) and interfering with it may constitute a criminal offence.
The scope of the legislation is quite wide reaching as various cases in 2016 have shown that:
- even if land has a statutorily defined purpose it may not be protected from registration if it is still possible for the statutory function to be exercised in tandem with use of the land as a town and village green.
- tracks over land may trigger a right of registration as a town and village green, instead of the acquisition of a right of way, and walking or jogging on a defined track may constitute participation in a lawful sport or pastime.
- land may be registrable even if it is only used by people in the immediate vicinity. There is no need for users to be spread throughout a locality.
- a locality or neighbourhood need not be legally defined (or be in existence) for 20 years, as long as the use by inhabitants has lasted for the requisite period of 20 years. Developers and purchasers should therefore continue to be aware of the potential risks and take extra care when considering potential sites. Landowners may wish to deposit a landowner statement (in the prescribed form) with the commons registration authority under section 15A of the Commons Act 2006. This will be regarded as bringing any period of use “as of right” to an end. If, however, the use has already been ongoing for over 20 years it is likely to provoke an application to register the land as a town and village green. Indeed the Open Spaces Society states on its website that it “has written to all the registration authorities to ask to be notified” of all deposited landowner statements.
2017 has reaffirmed the need for caution in this area. Although putting up signs can prevent the use of land being “as of right”, the case of TW Logistics Limited –v- Essex County Council & Tucker has demonstrated that the positioning and content of such signage is important. The signs must clearly detail the activities that are prohibited and the area in respect of which the prohibition applies.