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Developers have often been frustrated in the past where they have applied for planning permission to develop open land, only for applications to be made at that stage by local groups to designate that land as a Town or Village Green (TVG). TVGs are areas where a significant number of the inhabitants of a locality or neighbourhood have indulged “as of right” in lawful sports and pastimes for at least twenty years. One can understand local people’s wish to protect what they may see as “their” open space. By the same token, although developers rarely elicit public sympathy, it might seem harsh for them to be ambushed in this way when the “locals” may have had years to make such an application but have not done so.
The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 became law on 25 April 2013 and provides (among other things) that once a number of “trigger events” have happened (including publicity for a planning application, adoption of a development plan or the making of a neighbourhood development plan), an application to register land as a TVG is prohibited until a “terminating event” has occurred. The Act specifies what those “terminating events” are in relation to each relevant “trigger event”. This changed regime gives developers a “clear run” to pursue a planning application in a way that seems fair once they have checked that “the coast is clear” to do so.
The fact that the ability to apply to register a TVG can be suspended does not mean that the 20-year use “clock” does not keep running. However, there is another section of the Act which allows a landowner to lodge a statement and a map with the Commons Registration Authority to seek to do just that. The regulations giving details of how this will be done are still to be published.
These changes may be regarded as a fair attempt to balance public protection while removing another roadblock from the planning permission process for developers.