Clifton Pond in Bedfordshire is a village green and that’s official. ‘There are hidden town and village greens everywhere,’ explains Kate Ashbrook, secretary of the Open Spaces Society (OSS). ‘Greens are those pieces of land that people have used for years to kick a ball about on, walk the dog or go blackberrying anything from a few square yards to something bigger. What matters is to get them registered.’ Clifton’s pond became a ‘village green’ after a public inquiry at which the inhabitants of Clifton provided evidence to Bedfordshire County Council that they had used the pond ‘as of right’ for ‘lawful sports and pastimes’ which included feeding the ducks for more than 20 years and had done so without permission or hindrance.
It’s become easier to register a piece of land as a town or village green because of changes in legislation, which came into effect in April 2007. According to the Open Spaces Society (OSS) (www.oss.org.uk), there were 172 applications last year compared with 77 in 2006. Anyone may apply to the registration authority (normally the local council) to register land as a green. There is no fee to make an application; however, it may prove expensive to win one, especially if the registration is contested. The Friends of Warneford Meadow had originally budgeted on £16,000 for legal fees for its town green application.
After more than 2,300 pages of evidence were collected and submitted by both sides, and the inquiry twice adjourned, the Friends are now facing a legal bill of about £45,000. Warneford Meadow is an 18-acre grassland area near Oxford, which the NHS wanted to sell for development. It had been purchased in 1918 by the Warneford Hospital with the intention of keeping it as a natural space for the psychological benefit of the local community’.
Fundraising, and the need to get witness statements from local residents past and present, means that town and village green applications are normally best done as a community effort. ‘An application can be enormously time-consuming,’ says Sietske Boeles, joint co-ordinator of The Friends of Warneford Meadow. She gave up work as a psychiatrist to concentrate on the Friends’ application. Not only should applicants look to the local community for support organisations such as the OSS, which has produced a guide, Getting Greens Registered, and the CPRE can offer help, too.
‘We have also had tremendous support from other town and village green applicants in other parts of the country. The principles are the same in each application, so there is a lot of knowledge and experience to be shared between friends groups,’ explains Dr Boeles. Even if a campaign is unsuccessful in registering land as a green, it may still succeed in its broader aim, Dr Boeles explains. ‘One potential spin-off from getting the message across that a community cares about its open spaces is that this often means that other solutions are found.’ She cites the example of Radley Lakes in Oxfordshire, where locals tried to get the and registered as a green to stop Didcot Power Station filling Thrupp Lake with pulverised fuel ash.
The campaigners failed in the aim of registering the land, but now Oxfordshire County Council is trying to arrange an alternative way of disposing of the ash. Friends of Warneford Meadow (01865 728153; www.friendsofwarnefordmeadow.org.uk)
Registering a village green
* Any person may apply to their local or unitary authority to register a town or village green on Form 44, available from the council
* You need to map the area you wish to register, and show that a significant number of local people have used this land for recreation for a continuous period of at least 20 years and have done so without permission, without being stopped or seeing notices which stop them, and without being secretive about it
* Once registered, the land is protected from encroachment and development by section 12 of the Inclosure Act 1857 and section 29 of the Commons Act 1876