Summoned by BBC One’s Countryfile, I arrived at Trap Grounds in Oxford on the bright morning of 18 October. The topic was new village greens – Trap Grounds being a prime example.
Trap Grounds was registered as a village green in 2006, after going all the way to the House of Lords. The case established important legal principles which were included in the Commons Act 2006. Thanks to the persistence of the Friends of Trap Grounds, led by Catherine Robinson, the four-acre scrubland, a former rubbish-tip, was saved from becoming a housing estate and is now much loved and cared for by local people.
As we gathered on the bridge on Frenchay Road overlooking the canal, I asked what was the peg for the story. Tom Heap said that Defra was publishing its long-awaited response to the village green consultation later that day, and Countryfile had some idea what it would say. This filled me with alarm, both because the Open Spaces Society had had no warning of this announcement and because it is difficult to do an interview based on speculation.
Trap Grounds’ band of volunteers was there, with rakes, forks and wheelbarrows. This was not their normal workday but they had gathered specially for the occasion. We set off into the marshy area which we crossed on board walks. Some way along we stopped for an interview in which I explained the law of village greens and challenged the notion that people were abusing the law to thwart development.
We then moved into an open area where the volunteers were already hard at work, and others had come to enjoy the company and the autumn sunshine.
I received a call from Defra to say that the announcement would be made some time around noon, and that it was to be published in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. Defra would not tell me what was in it.
Countryfile filmed the volunteers and interviewed Catherine Robinson and others. Then the children at the adjoining school came out to play and it was too noisy to continue – which was as well as I was still waiting to hear the fate of greens.
So we broke for a while, and at about 12.30 I had another call from Defra with news of what was in the Bill, ie that the law would put an end to the registration of land as greens if that land has been earmarked for planning.
Of course I didn’t know the detail, only the notes I had made from the phone call, but I knew that the proposals were bad, and was able to say so to Countryfile.
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