Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by Keith Dowson (GIB 22)

Summary

The G&I Bill proposes the use of ‘Trigger Points’ to determine ‘vexatious applications’ for Town and Village Green status. Use of such ‘trigger points’ in isolation is badly flawed and makes the Bill inequitable and very unbalanced.

The DEFRA report "Town and Village Green consultation – Summary of responses" which was published in November 2012 plus the Open Spaces Society proposals (2.3 detailed below) would sensibly redress this inbalance.

1.0 I have read with much interest the ongoing discussions associated with the above Bill currently making its way through the Parliamentary process. In overall terms I am very much a supporter of this Bill and appreciate many of the areas that government are seeking to improve and simplify.

1.1 However, there is one area where I consider the balance of the Bill is not equitable and that is within Clauses 12 & 13. The government’s intentions to stop vexatious applications for Village Green status are understandable and laudable where such applications are solely made to stop or at least disrupt building and development taking place. Similarly, the use of ‘trigger points’ make a great deal of sense and brings clarity and focus to what can be a confusing situation.

My concerns are that the ‘trigger points’ themselves are being used in isolation and in most cases will only serve to deny local inhabitants from ‘protecting their rights’ as defined by the Commons Act 2006.

1.2 Having researched the very few ‘New Village Green’ applications that have made it through the existing rigorous review process and been approved in the North East of England, it is clear to me that it is likely none of these would have succeeded in the proposed new Bill. Hence my belief that Clauses 12 & 13 as currently worded do make this Bill unbalanced.

1.3 At a personal level, I purchased my house in May 1983 from a developer. The house is on the edge of a housing estate and the adjoining land between my estate and the next estate was and is open land which has been left untended for more than 30 years. Clearly before buying I had the land area checked out and was advised by the developer that the land was unstable due to old mine workings and was totally unsuitable for further housing development.

1.4 For well over 30 years local inhabitants have used this land for lawful recreational purposes. On the basis that no development of the land could be made it was always assumed there was no need to formalise the rights that local inhabitants had accrued.

The developer is now working towards a planning application that will be submitted in 2013.

2.0 My understanding of Clauses 12 & 13 would be to totally block any application for a Village Green for that area of land, thus denying the local inhabitants their rights to apply for TVG status.

2.1 Surely in such process there needs to be an equitable balance where rights accrued to inhabitants are not just wiped out and lost but can also be fairly considered along with any proposed development activities.

2.2 The DEFRA report Town and Village Green consultation – Summary of responses – November 2012 clearly shows that by far the majority of respondees considered that it was far better for any Landowner Statements to be published and a period provided for local inhabitant review and response.

2.3 The Open Spaces Society who have advised on Commons Act legislation since 1868 (includes County Councils as well as individuals) have also been clear on their views that changes need to be made to Clauses 12 & 13. Their recommendations are:

a) Clause 12 enables a landowner to deposit a statement bringing to an end lawful sports and pastimes within 2 years.

However, there is no requirement for the landowner to publicise that this statement has been deposited. Thus there is no trigger for local people to act to protect those rights that have built up over twenty years or more.

The deposition of this statement must be publicised.

b) Clause 13 and Schedule 4 should be removed or at the very least amended – this prevents an application for village green status being made once it has been earmarked for development.

At the very least local people should be given time to assess the potential of village green status and submit an application.

3.0 Currently, my neighbours and I have already submitted an Application for Town and Village Green status. This is supported by evidence from approx. 600 local inhabitants, 60% of whom have each used the land adjoining our estates for in excess of 20 years for lawful purposes.

3.1 The Growth and Infrastructure Bill in its current form would deem the application we have made as vexatious – this really is a nonsense bearing in mind the details I have already outlined regarding the land area.

I do trust that you will also come to recognise that there is a real need for some adjustments to the proposed wording of the Bill with regard to ‘Trigger Points’, which will not make the TVG process any easier but would bring the right and necessary balance to this government proposal.

November 2012

Prepared 21st November 2012