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Yellow is the new green when it comes to town planning

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The classic image of a village green is one of a grassy space, shaded by oak trees; a game of cricket played while boys sail their toy yachts across the duck pond - but now the High Court has ruled that a village green does not have to be green.

In a case that could prove a stumbling block to property developers, the Court has taken a very broad view of what can constitute a ‘village green’ – a status which grants public right of access and use – which could give objectors the potential to prevent future planning applications.

The case involved West Beach at Newhaven which had been registered as a village green by East Sussex County Council on the basis that it had been used for recreation by local residents for over twenty years.

Newhaven Port Authority, the owner of the beach, wanted to fence it off because the sea wall was in a state of disrepair, and applied for judicial review of the decision to register the beach. But the court ruled that neither lack of grass nor the fact that it was covered by the sea twice a day prevented West Beach from being a village green for the purposes of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2006.

This Act says a person may apply to register a piece of land as a village or town green if a significant number of local inhabitants have indulged in sports or pastimes on the land for at least twenty years, and are still doing so at the time of the application, or were still doing so within certain time limits.

Said property law expert Edward Worthy of Chelmsford based Gepp & Sons: “The definition of a village green in the 2006 Act is very wide; what matters is not the nature of the land in question, but how it is used. The case is important to property developers because the courts seem to take a very inclusive view of what is a town or village green and the fact that the wording of the 2006 Act is quite vague, there is some concern that objectors to potential planning applications might seek to register land as a village green to prevent development.”

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.