Town and village greens

Towns or village greens

The Isle of Wight Council is the Registration Authority for the purposes of the Commons Registration Act 1965 and the Commons Act 2006. As Registration Authority, the Council is responsible for compiling and maintaining the Registers of Common Land and Town or Villages Greens and for any amendments to the Registers.

Village greens have their origins in the manorial system introduced after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Most village greens may at one time have formed part of open uncultivated and unoccupied land belonging to a manor or estate. Use of the land for sports and pastimes by local inhabitants was tolerated by the lord of the manor and over many years the local people could claim rights to use the land for recreation.

The traditional green was a communal area where people could gather to play games, dance and exercise and often served as a secure place where livestock could be gathered and safely grazed during times of unrest. Greens were also the location for services such as the village well or where justice was dispensed in the village stocks.

The Commons Registration Act 1965

Although village greens have been recognised in law for centuries, until the Commons Registration Act 1965 there was no statutory definition of the classes of land involved and no strict common law meaning. The 1965 Act for the first time provided a scheme for registration of town and village greens as a distinct category of land separate from commons.

Commons Act 2006

Section 15 of the Commons Act 2006 replaces with modifications previous legislation for the registration of new greens contained in sections 13 and 22 of the Commons Registration Act 1965. Amendments were made to the criteria for registration by Section 98 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 with the intention of removing certain impediments to registration.

The process

Getting an area registered as a Town or Village Green is a long process as it is bound up by laws, legislation and continuing court cases and it can cause bad feeling within a community as the subject land is often privately and locally owned. The applicant will need to complete an application form, provide maps and encourage the community to fill out evidence questionnaires detailing their use of the land. Wanting a village green because it is pretty and supports wildlife is not enough. The landowner may have a lot to lose and will often bring in the full weight of expensive legal advice to pull the application apart, so the evidence will need to be sturdy.

Once the application is received by the council it has to be checked that it is legally correct, copied and advertised, the landowner and any other party are given time to object, and the applicant is given time to comment on the objections. The information provided from all parties has to be collated and formed into a report with a recommendation. The report has to be sent to various council departments for comments and finally to the council committee, it is they who make the decision.

Ownership and management of the land after it is registered

The ownership of the land does not change; it has only had a change of status. The management would usually fall to the owner but very often there is agreement between the owner and parish or town council about how this would take place and who would do it. The landowner could also continue to use the land as they did before, i.e. plant and harvest crops or graze animals. However, the use should not interfere with the use by the public.

Village green applications and planning permission

A village green application cannot be accepted on land that has a planning application that is being determined, is under appeal, within the time period to appeal or has been given planning permission.

Erecting buildings or playgrounds on a village green

Playgrounds and sports changing rooms could be built on a village green, however the permission of the owner must be sought first, planning permission may be necessary and the playground or building must be open and accessible to the public at all times. At no point can the public be barred entry by any means.