The law offers a way of protecting land that is used as a local amenity in order to ensure that it can be enjoyed for generations to come. Where land has been used by local people ‘as of right’ for recreational purposes for at least 20 years, it can be registered as common land (a ‘village green’) under the Commons Act 2006.
In this context, ‘as of right’ means that the land has been used without permission, without the use of force and openly (i.e. not in secret).
Registration of land as a village green makes subsequent development of it extremely difficult to achieve.
It is not necessary for land to be publicly owned for it to be registered as a village green. Privately owned land can be registered and the owner of land that is used for recreational purposes by the community can apply for their own land to be registered as common land.
The legislation that allows registration of common land applies throughout England except in Epping Forest, the Forest of Dean and the New Forest.
To register land as a village green, an application must be made to the appropriate registration authority, which is usually the local council. The procedure is largely the same throughout the country, with one or two exceptions.
You do not have to have a formal legal right over, or a legal interest in, the land to make an application for registration: anyone can make one.
If the owner of land which has been used for recreational purposes by the community fences it off, or takes steps to prevent the continuance of the use, a registration must be sought within two years of the challenge to the use as of right.
The Act does allow land to be deregistered (‘released’) in certain circumstances. Normally, an application to release land requires the registration of ‘replacement land’ as common land. The Act also prohibits the sale or lease of common land.
From 2013, where a ‘trigger event’ has occurred (which includes the making of a planning application or the identification of land for potential development in a development plan), the ability to apply for the land to be registered as common land is suspended until the planning status of the land is resolved.
Lastly, it is not necessary for land to be ‘green land’ for it to be registered as common land: in 2013, a beach was registered as common land under the Act.