As if the Growth and Infrastructure Bill’s attack on village greens wasn’t bad enough, the government now, at the eleventh hour, intends to make it even worse.
The bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons, and through committee in the House of Lords. I have explained previously what its evil intentions are. Now, at report stage in the Lords, the government is introducing its own amendments and has backed other amendments from Baroness Byford which will make it yet more difficult to register land as greens—even on land not affected by development, the focus of this bill.
The bill allows two months after royal assent before clause 14 and schedule 4 come into force. These are the measures which ban applications to register development-land as greens. On 12 March, on the second day of report in the Lords, the government moved amendments which would deny this two-month grace period and would bring the provisions into effect as soon as the bill receives royal assent.
Clearly this is grossly unfair to all those volunteers who, in the spirit of localism and the Big Society so encouraged by this government, are gathering evidence to register land as greens. They have assumed they have two months after royal assent in which to do this. Now their chance will end abruptly, probably next month. It would seem that the government has deliberately left this to the last minute to appease developers. It hasn’t bothered to consult about this change, ignoring its stakeholder group which advises on greens.
The amendments have been moved but will not be debated until Wednesday 20 March, so there is still a slim chance of defeating them.
One year not two
Meanwhile, Baroness Byford moved amendments which were backed by the government and approved on 12 March. These change the law so that an application to register land as a green not affected by development must be submitted within one year of the cessation of use for lawful sports and pastimes rather than the current two years. The government’s support flies in the face of a statement made by Baroness Hanham, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, on 30 January 2013 (col 1627):
The new legislation will not affect existing registered greens, which will continue to enjoy the same strong protection as they currently have. Nor is it our intention that the changes will affect applications to register land as a town or village green where there is no proposed development on the land in question.
This amendment does indeed affect applications where there is no proposed development. Once again, local people are put at a huge disadvantage: putting together an application is complicated and time-consuming, and a year may well not be long enough.
The Open Spaces Society will urge MPs to reject all these changes when the Bill returns to the House of Commons for the final consideration of Lords’ amendments.
If these provisions remain in the Growth and Infrastructure Act, our chances of recording our long-held rights to town and village greens will be greatly reduced. So much for localism and the Big Society.