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Village green status of school playing field is upheld

If land is registered as a village green it is a criminal offence to damage the green, or interrupt its use and enjoyment as a place for exercise and recreation. It is also a criminal offence to interfere with the green.

Registration of land as a village green thus renders the land untouchable. This reduces its monetary value to the landowner and also heavily restricts their use of the land.

A landowner who has its property registered as a village green is likely to fiercely resist any such registration. After a flurry of cases on village greens, they had been tailing off. The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 (GIA 2013) restricts the circumstances in which an application can be made to register land as a town or village green. It is likely that the introduction of the GIA 2013 is a major factor in the decrease of town and village green cases. 

But at the end of last month, Lancashire County Council (LCC) challenged the registration of land adjacent to a school, part of which was used as a school playing field.

LCC was the landowner and objected to registration of land adjacent to a primary school.  Part of the land was being used to facilitate an extension to the school building, and another part of the land was frequently used by the school for outdoor activities.

Grounds of opposition

LCC put forward the following: 

  • The first of these related to the definition of "locality". Section 15 of the Commons Act 2006 provides that an application may be made for registration of land as a town or village green where a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least twenty years. As the administrative area had changed during the twenty year period, LCC argued that the requirement under section 15 had not been met. LCC's view was that the 'locality' had to remain the same during the twenty year period. This argument was rejected. The current Ward was a continuation of a sufficient part of the former Ward for continuity to remain between the two.
  • The second ground – that there had to be a spread of users across the locality – was also rejected.
  • LCC also argued that registration as a village green was incompatible with the statutory purpose for which it held the land. However, as it could not be shown that the land had been acquired for educational purposes, this argument failed.
  • Finally, LCC failed to show that the public was using the land with the school's permission, rather than 'as of right', as required by the legislation.

The outcome

The result is that the land remains registered as a village green. LCC will be unable to develop on it if, as it was suggested in the case, it requires it for an extension to the existing school buildings in the future.

The GIA 2013 provides some support to landowners and developers.

  • It introduced "trigger events", the occurrence of which suspends the right to apply for registration as a town or village green. The right to apply for the land to be registered as a town or village green only becomes exercisable if a corresponding "terminating event" takes place. 
  • Landowners can also deposit a statement with the commons registration authority to bring to an end any period during which persons may have carried out lawful sports and pastimes on the land.

Landowners should be aware that while depositing a statement will bring to an end any period of use, it will not prevent a new period from beginning. The landowner must stake steps to ensure that the public is not able to use the land, as of right, for lawful sports and pastimes. This may include the construction of signs and fencing. Alternatively, express permission could be given , permitting the use of the land.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2016. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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