The developing law involving town and village greens will be of interest both to commercial property developers and their lawyers. It is also an area keenly observed by Local Rambling Associations and others with an interest in conserving the nature of the town and countryside environment.
A town and village green can be registered under the Commons Act 2006 if it can be shown that a significant number of inhabitants of any locality or neighbourhood have lawfully used the area for sports and past-times for a period of at least 20 years. The application of this can be interpreted broadly and subjectively.
The land can therefore be made subject to a Town and Village Green registration even if it is in the middle of a built up area or even within a commercial/manufacturing zone.
A recent case (October 2018) involving a commercial cargo handling port in Essex has highlighted the potential conflicting uses that can arise. In this case, the local cargo port operator on the River Stour sought to erect a fence to prevent injury to pedestrians because of the proximity of the dock wall. The public enquiry which followed resulted in the land being registered as a town and village green, even though it was within a commercially operated area. Justification for the registration was that the area had been used by individuals for sports or past-times such as walking with or without dogs and engaging in similar recreational pursuits for at least 20 years.
Even though the land in question is used for commercial port operations, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Town and Village Green registration should remain. The result of this decision, in practice, may restrict the development of the port for commercial operations including incorporation of safety features such as fences and similar structures.
Other recent examples of areas which have been registered as town and village green include applications to register car parks, golf courses and school playgrounds and even a quarry, a tidal beach and open scrubland. The practical effect of a Town and Village Green registration could significantly restrict commercial activity and potential future development of the land.
There are some practical steps that a land owner can take. Particularly, the land owner should make it clear that any access and/or use of the land is by permission of the land owner. Thus steps taken to physically prevent access or make it clear that any access can only be enjoyed on limited days and on limited conditions. Erecting prominent signs and regularly checking on the integrity and security of fences and keeping boundary fences in repair would be practical steps for a landowner to take.
Glaisyers are here to help both land owners and users of land and can assist with practical and legal advice on such related matters.