Leading us up the garden path

Yet again we find that this government has acted on prejudice not evidence.

When the Growth and Infrastructure Bill was going through parliament, ministers claimed that the number of applications for village greens was increasing and that people were abusing the process to prevent development.  Once land is registered as a green, local people have rights of recreation there and nineteenth-century legislation prevents the land from being encroached on.

At the time we argued that Defra’s surveys did not back up these allegations.  Parliamentary questions in 2012 showed that the number of applications was decreasing.  The data had only been gathered up to September 2011 and it was clearly inadequate.  We have been pressing ever since for more up to date figures.

Biennial survey
Yesterday we got them.  Defra published its biennial survey of all commons registration authorities (who are responsible for registering greens) for the period 2011 to November 2013.  The results show clearly that the downward trend in applications continues.  Here is a table to show the figures from 2007 to November 2013.

2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
No of applications submitted
143
196
194
134
123
132
122
No granted
25
38
37
31
37

The 2011-13 results come from 44 registration authorities (county and unitary councils), roughly 29 per cent of the total, and have been extrapolated to all authorities in England.  The figures for applications submitted are low, and certainly did not justify changing the law to prevent people from registering greens on land threatened with development.   And the survey did not ask whether the land for which the application was made was subject to planning.

So Defra’s allegation that people were applying for greens vexatiously appears to have no evidence to back it up.

New green at Myton Lane Spinney, Warwick

New green at Myton Lane Spinney, Warwick

The figures show a backlog of 305 applications and an increase in the number of public inquiries for contested applications, from 24 in 2011 to 53 in 2013.  It also, bizarrely, shows an increase in officer hours for processing each application, from 79 in 2012 to 148 in 2013—but perhaps that is because very few authorities responded to that question.

The Open Spaces Society has produced a set of proposals to speed up, streamline and improve the village green process, including a set of time limits for each stage.  These encourage greater dialogue between interested parties and reduce the need for public inquiries and thus the cost.  If ministers had accepted these proposals instead of changing the law, the backlog might be smaller and the number of inquiries and officer hours fewer.

Despicably
The Westminster government has behaved despicably, preventing people from protecting their much-loved local spaces with no mitigation: the promised local green space remains an enigma.  The Welsh government threatens to copy England in changing the law on greens and it is vital that we prevent it from doing so.

New green at Strete, Devon

New green at Strete, Devon

Postscript: since I posted this, a Defra spokeswoman has told Planning magazine that ‘This study shows that the changes we made are working and continue to support our long-term economic plan by reducing unnecessary applications and promoting local development.’  I don’t know how she can read that into the survey; it shows no such thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Defra, green spaces, Growth and Infrastructure Act, Open Spaces Society, planning, town and village greens and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leading us up the garden path

  1. Reblogged this on Over The Hills and commented:
    Outrageous the way this government is attacking countryside protection legislation.

  2. Ash says:

    Has this government (& politicians of whatever hue) forgotten that there’s an election coming up? It’s time we had a change in how our government works. With each new week the politicians appear to move even further away from reality.

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