The attack on town and village greens, which we have expected for the last couple of years, is now upon us.
Clause 13 of the government’s Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently before the House of Commons, will stop local people from applying to register land as a green once it has been marked down for development—even if this has not been publicised. In other words, our ability to save the spaces we love and enjoy is blocked before we even know the land is threatened.
The government says that this will stop so-called ‘vexatious’ applications which, it claims, are being made purely to thwart development at an alleged cost of millions of pounds to taxpayers, landowners and local investors. In fact there are few such applications (and ministers parrot the same handful of examples over and over again). In our view this is a minor problem: it should be resolved by amending the process, not by changing the law—for instance by enabling the registration authority to dismiss applications which do not fulfil strict criteria. This suggestion was supported by the majority of those who responded to the consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last year. The government has ignored this practical solution, preferring—to the delight of developers—to kill off hundreds of genuine claims as well as the handful of speculative ones.
This attack cuts to the heart of our cause and we have thrown ourselves into the campaign against it: we are drafting amendments to the bill for friendly MPs and peers to move and we are preparing and circulating hundreds of briefings as we lobby them and ministers in an all-out effort to delete or alter these damaging provisions.
Many of you have already lobbied your MPs to good effect: as a result greens and the Open Spaces Society featured prominently in the second-reading debate and in the bill committee’s deliberations. We have already won national and local publicity—but we need to generate more. This is only the overture to the battle ahead.
All this comes as a massive, and unwelcome, additional workload for our small society, which is already intensely busy. We need your continuing help and support.
• write or send an email to your MP, expressing your concern about the threat to greens, and asking him or her to write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, and to speak against clause 13 at every opportunity,
• apply now to register as a green any land in your locality which local people have enjoyed for 20 years for informal recreation, without being stopped or given permission. By the time the bill is law it may be too late,
• give to the ‘We Fight Back‘ appeal to enable us to continue this vital campaign to save our greens.
Thank you for all you are doing to help us.