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How can I prevent my property from becoming a Town and/or Village Green?

The risk of land being designated as a town or village green and the resulting reduction in the value is a concern to residential and commercial land owners alike.

The Commons Act 2006 provides that anyone can apply to register land as a town or village green where “a significant number of inhabitants of any locality, or any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years”. To be successful, in addition to the above an applicant would need to show either:

A. The use is continuing at the time the application to register the land as a town or village green is made; or
B. The use ceased before the application was made but after 6 April 2007. In this case, the application must be made within two years of the cessation of the use.

Searches can be made to ascertain whether the land is already registered but this does not address the potential risk of land being designated in the future. It is quite possible that, if the use of the land for sports and pastimes has ceased immediately prior to the property being placed on the market, a purchaser would be unaware that the land remained subject to the two year risk period unless relevant enquiries had been raised of the seller to flush out the issue.

Although replies to such enquiries should be reliably provided by sellers who have owned land for a prolonged period, if the seller has owned the land for less than two years and did not obtain replies to enquiries in relation to this issue when they purchased, they may not have sufficient knowledge to satisfy a prospective purchaser that there is no risk of an application being made. In such a situation, , the only way of definitively ensuring that an application could not be successfully made against the property would be to wait two years from the date of purchase.

The key statement within the Commons Act 2006 is “as of right”. It must be shown that the use of the land has been without force, secrecy or permission.

Merely providing permission after the requisite 20 year period will not defeat an application. If land is already being utilised by members of the public the following practical steps should be taken to try and prevent a future application being made to designate the land as a town or village green:

1. Restrict access by the public – adequate sturdy fencing should be erected and any gaps stopped up;
2. Signage should be placed on all gateways stating that access is not permitted by members of the public. If the land contains a public footpath, the sign should state that access is limited to the formal public footpath;
3. Consideration should be given to placing an advertisement in the local parish newsletter and placing notices on any local boards to ensure that it is abundantly clear that the use of the land by members of the public is not permitted.
4. When the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which has now had its second reading in the House of Lords, becomes law, make use of any additional means it provides to landowners to reduce the threat of future applications to register land as a town or village green.

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