Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by Bristol Parks Forum (GIB 27)

This submission is for the Public Bill Committee for the Growth and Infrastructure Bill (HC Bill 75) submitted by the Bristol Parks Forum.

Bristol Parks Forum is the umbrella organisation and representative body for community park groups and organisations in the city of Bristol with an interest in their local parks and green spaces. It is supported by Bristol City Council but acts independently and is the only 'community voice' that is dedicated to all of Bristol's green spaces. There are currently over 70 park groups that are members. The forum's main roles are to offer an opportunity to share ideas and experience, act as a consultation body for the Bristol Parks service and other agencies, and influence decision-making. More information can be found at http://www.bristolparksforum.org.uk/.

Summary

· Bristol Parks Forum strongly objects to the introduction of sections 12 and 13 of the Bill as they both will preclude the registration of land that is rightfully a town or village green.

· We find it unacceptable that the legislation gives primacy to the owner and potential developer and not the local community. If land is a treasured local resource for sports and pastimes then that must be given priority, not development.

· The current rules for determining a town or village green are in themselves fair. It is the process for determining whether a town or village green application should be granted with its associated time and cost that is the issue. This is the area that the bill should address.

· If a site that is suitable for development then this is not a reason to preclude it from being a town or village green. Town and village greens do not just exist on land that can’t be developed on.

· Something needs to be done about the amount of time and money that is wasted on the town and village green process, but this legislation goes too far by removing communities’ rights to keep valued spaces as town and village greens.

Statement by Owner

1. This section in its current form allows for owners through a ‘statement by owner’ to submit rolling applications so that an application for a town green may perhaps never be applied for. This is unacceptable, as many areas such as Grove Wood Town Green (March 2012) in Bristol would never have been registered as a town green. Grove Wood was rightly upheld as a town green with the application being supported by both Bristol City Council and the local community in. This town green would have been lost to the local community with both the local council and the community being powerless to do anything. [1]

2. We understand that a two-year period is given in which an application for a town green can be lodged once a ‘statement by owner’ has been deposited. This is not clear from the information provided for the bill. We would expect the bill to have a clause that any ‘statement by owner’ that is submitted is prominently displayed for all to see on the site in question. This should be done in a similar fashion to other planning applications for sites, ensuring that all users of the site will have visibility of the submission.

Restrictions on Right to Register

3. The bill press release [2] states that the bill ‘will ensure communities that wish to see land developed in their areas will no longer be overruled by an abuse of Town and Village Green legislation’. This is seldom the case, and in Bristol where the existing legislation has been used, local communities have not wanted to see the land developed. Cases in Bristol to cite in this instance would be Castle Park (August 2009) [3] and Ashton Vale Village Green (June 2011) [4] where unwanted development was proposed. We would restate the above press release to say that the bill; ‘will ensure that developers that wish to develop land will no longer have to take into consideration the wishes of the local community for the land to remain undeveloped’. Though Castle Park was not designated as a village green, the process of applying has helped to ensure that development unwanted by the community has not taken place. This bill will remove what little power is left for locals to protect their green spaces.

4. In Bristol the Whitchurch Village Green was registered as a town green in October 2011 [5] after being shown to have been used ‘as of right’ for more than twenty years. This green was earmarked for development and planning applications were being sought. As there is nothing comparable in the planning process to refuse the development going ahead, the village green would have been lost forever. Once lost, never returned.

5. Overall, if the proposed legislation had been in place, then the people of Bristol would have lost access to over 60 acres of extremely valuable recreational open space. To purchase this land based on development land costs would cost in excess of £35,000,000 [6].

6. The figures provided in the supporting press release [2] are very selective. This can clearly be been seen from the numerous Bristol examples provided which are more typical. As such they should not be used as a basis for a change in the legislation. An example would be the costs attributed to the delay in the Marsh Gibbon case [7]. These are down to inefficiencies in the process, not the legislation itself. If a point of law can be made in one day to an inspector then it should not take over 2.5 years to bring the case to a hearing.

Triggers

7. Often, though not always (as in Ambra Vale East [8]), the legislation is enacted when unwanted development is being proposed to protect valuable open spaces. A measure of protection needs to remain. If triggers such as the inclusion of an area in a draft planning document are allowed to halt applications then this could be used as an underhand tactic by local councils to preclude applications.

8. Inclusion within a draft planning document, draft neighbourhood development plan or a planning application being submitted are most often the first indication to a local community that their precious open space is under threat. This makes it inevitable that applications are made after a planning change has taken place. This is not an attempt to 'get round' the planning process, rather it is because communities very often have no reason prior to such events to enter into a time consuming and potentially costly process of making a Town and Village Green application. Local people may have been enjoying the use of a space for several generations and it may never have occurred to them that the situation might change. This legislation will remove a community’s ability to protect their space. This must not take place without other safeguards to protect valuable space being put in place beforehand.

9. A secondary consequence of this legislation will most probably be a dramatic increase in the number of applications over the next few months. Communities will have to consider all spaces that they currently use for recreation and make an application in case a planning application is made in the future, even if that seems unlikely.

10. The bill gives too much power ‘by Order’ to the Secretary of State to change the available trigger points. This could lead to notices being posted on the land of ‘intent to develop’ by the owner which would preclude any application for Town and Village Green status.

Process

11. Many applications come down to whether or not the land is used ‘as of right’ or ‘by right’ and whether or not the land has been appropriated as public open space. If the enquiries were made to focus on these primary areas then the time taken for them could be much reduced and the associated cost reduced. Our experience is that too much time is taken up with barristers pontificating on points that have little relevance to the hearing [9].

12. The current town and village green legislation provides a relatively stringent process to allow the evaluation of the value of land as recreational space to the community before any change of use takes place. The changes to the legislation proposed take this away and tilts the balance too far in favour of those that would prefer to see development over the retention of open space. Any legislation enacted should ensure that this evaluation can still take place. The legislation proposed does not.

November 2012

References

[1] Grove Wood (private ownership). This application is for privately owned woodland at Snuff Mills. The Council held negotiations to purchase the land and has said that it intends to declare it as a Local Nature Reserve. The landowner objected to the Town Green application. The public inquiry was held in two parts in April and August 2011. The inspector's report recommended that the land should be a Town Green. This was agreed by the BCC PROWG committee on 15th March 2012. http://snuffmills.blogspot.com/

[2] Bill press release can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2012/10/18/ending-abuse-of-village-greens-legislation/

[3] Castle Park (BCC owned) - Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee on 3rd August 2009 upheld the inspector's recommendation that the application be rejected 'Since Castle Park had been acquired following a Compulsory Purchase Order 'for the purposes of dealing with war damage', he had concluded that in 1978, when the resolution to use the land as a park was passed, it must have been implicit in that decision that the land was being appropriated to a new statutory purpose'. The Committee resolved that the Committee requests that the Council Executive consider bringing forward proposals for Castle Park to be voluntarily made a Town Green, as per the 2006 Act, as part of any future development proposals. http://www.castlepark.org.uk

[4] Aston Vale (private ownership) No 12 - recommended for approval by the inspector at the public inquiry. Went to the Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee on 16th June 2011 who agreed that part of the site should be a TG but not the part needed for the stadium. Links to the Inspector's report, the Council report to the 16th June Committee meeting and the Applicants' submission on Nov 2010 are on the BPF website at http://www.bristolparksforum.org.uk/#tg This decision was subject to a Judicial Review and the Council has now decided to refer the non-registered northern part of the site back to the inspector. See www.bristol.gov.uk/node/11720

[5] Whitchurch (BCC owned) No 10 This application was made on 11 February 2008.The inspector at first public inquiry in April 2009 confirmed that land had not been appropriated as public open space. Second public inquiry in February/March 2011 considered use for recreation. The inspector's report recommended that the site should be registered as a Town Green and this recommendation was accepted by the Committee on 3rd October 2011. http://tinyurl.com/65tqb3n

[6] Based on the costs cited in press release for value of land in Warneford Meadow in Oxford.

[7] In Marsh Gibbon, a fifteen acre field had allegedly been farmed for 200 hundred years so was at no point being used, in the traditional sense, as a village green.  Nonetheless, the building of eight new houses was delayed by 2.5 years by a TVG application.  In February 2008, eight affordable homes received planning permission following community consultation on the proposed development.  In March 2008, when a building contract had been made, a local pressure group ‘Keep it Green’ applied to Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) to have the site registered as a Village Green.  The matter was heard at a public inquiry which was eventually held in mid 2010.  The hearing lasted one day and the inspector found that the application failed to satisfy any of the tests set out in Section 15 of the Commons Act and therefore rejected the application – 2.5 years after the construction had been due to start.  Unrecoverable costs to Hastoe: £157,859; Unrecoverable costs to Ewelme Charity: (which owns the remainder of the field) £14,000 (circa); unrecoverable costs to Bucks County Council: £15,000; further unrecoverable costs to Hastoe if the application had been successful: £76,947. In addition to the above, if the application had been successful 10-12 construction jobs would have been lost along with homes that will house 26 local people. (extract from press release [2])

[8] Ambra Vale East (unknown ownership) - Public Rights of Way and Greens Committee on 19th January 2009 resolved that the application be granted. Despite extensive searches, it had not been possible to identify the current owner of the land. There were no objections and therefore no inquiry. http://tinyurl.com/9r2f9q

[9] Time spent at Castle Park hearing in Bristol by defending barrister for Deeley Freed pontificating on whether or not ‘No Dogs’ signs on the side of the children’s playground made a difference to ‘as of right’ (amongst others).

Prepared 22nd November 2012