Closure of 'village green' loophole sparks hopes for affordable homes
Village greens in the Westcountry could begin disappearing under new developments, campaigners have warned, after changes to a system which the Government claims is being "abused".
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said new laws introduced this week mean it will no longer be possible to block local development by making 'spurious' village green applications. Under the changes, applications relating to land which is regularly used for local recreation will have to be made within a year of the land's use, rather than two.
Ministers claim closing the loophole will allow communities to get the homes they desperately need. However, Kate Ashbrook from the Open Spaces Society said it seems it is "hell-bent on destroying them".
"Defra has little evidence that the system is being increasingly abused," she said. "The number of greens applications made in relation to planning applications is minuscule. In fact the number of greens applications has dropped between 2008 and 2011. Communities need to identify now any much-loved land which they have enjoyed for 20 years and apply to register it as a green before the land is threatened."
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Community's rights for village greens and common land have been in existence since mediaeval times. The rules state that land which is owned by a landowner but regularly used by local people should be kept from development.
However, Defra estimate the changes will save around £1.3 million a year as applications often lead to expensive and time-consuming public enquiries and court cases.
Rural Affairs Minister, Richard Benyon said many towns have been held back from getting the developments they want through misuse of the system. He said: "Rural communities need access to services like healthcare, schools and housing just as much as urban areas. These changes will allow that infrastructure to be built, creating jobs and economic growth."
The Countryside Alliance said the move would pave the way for more affordable homes in rural areas. Its executive chairman Barney White-Spunner said: "Earlier this year we heard, from the National Housing Federation, that the number of people aged between 30-44 who live in the countryside has dropped by nearly 9% in the past decade, proof that we need more affordable homes in rural areas.
"A lack of affordable homes creates a vicious cycle which if not broken leads to the break-up of communities, a loss of services and results in villages that have no long term future. "