Opinion article from autumn Open Space, published by the Open Spaces Society.
We wish that the government’s consultation on the registration of new greens had been among the documents which Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin threw in the park bins.
This, together with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), with its ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ (whatever that means, and it’s not defined), poses a vicious threat to our green spaces.
Clearly the consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the registration of new greens is intended to restrict registrations to uncontroversial, pretty land in town and village centres. It seeks to outlaw applications for land which, despite being much loved and used by local people, is scruffy and neglected (probably the bulk of applications nowadays), or is earmarked for or threatened by development.
It is alarming that, if government does introduce legislation to curtail new greens, it may also clobber the many applications in the pipeline. Kevin Woodhouse, an official in Defra’s customer contact unit, has written to applicants in Wivenhoe, Essex, saying that in the light of ‘the possibility of a significant rise in applications to beat the introduction of any new legislation, we … cannot rule out the possibility that new legislation may be drafted, or amended, to deal with applications in play…’. While Defra’s head of commons and access implementation team, Hugh Craddock, states that no decision has yet been taken, he does not deny that legislation could be retrospective.
This would be as unfair as the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 which stopped in their tracks applications for vehicular highways that had been submitted but not determined. It is a nasty and undemocratic tactic.
Greens registration enables local people to secure land which they have long enjoyed for recreation. Yet Defra’s consultation connects the greens process to the proposed new ‘local green space’ designation in the NPPF.
That proposal is so restricted as to be damaging, with no indication of how land will be designated or protected, and no mention of public access.
It is highly dangerous to make a link between village greens, which are based on long usage (surely localism at its best?), with the arbitrary and limited local green space—and we fear the worst for both designations.
Evidently the coalition’s promise to be ‘the greenest government ever’ has been park-binned already.