The contentious issue of village green applications is an increasing threat to local authorities seeking to sell land for development as a way of raising much-needed cash, guests heard at Hill Dickinson's annual developers conference at Chester Zoo yesterday.
John Holmes, partner and head of planning, told the 120 attendees at the half-day conference that the Supreme Court's (formerly House of Lords) ruling this year on a long-running legal row in Redcar made it difficult for developers and councils to defeat village green applicants.
A resident challenged Redcar & Cleveland Council and Persimmon's plans to build new houses on a municipal golf course, arguing that he and others had used the golf course for recreational use – as a shortcut, for sport and for dog-walking – and they had a right to continue to do so. The Supreme Court agreed the residents had such a right.
Holmes said simply erecting written notices that open space was to be used for development was not enough to overcome village green applications. The best way to challenge applicants was to visit the site and ask people in person to leave the land and to do this regularly.
A dozen questions from the floor followed the presentation and among those putting their hand up was a representative from Peel's land bank management team. She said expecting a landowner with tens of thousands of acres, both rural and urban, to have people positioned around its land to ask recreational users to leave was unmanageable.
Another person asked about insuring against village green applications to cover the cost of suing the vendor if a problem arose after land was acquired.
Wirral Council is among those trying to sell land to raise revenue but has faced a village green application at a site in Thingwall. Other village green applications were cited in Wigan and Rochdale.
Applicants can register a potential development as a village green for up to two years after they last used it, further extending the problem for housebuilders and others.
Holmes said residents were even trying to protect school sites from being sold after a school has closed, claiming they had a right to walk their dogs on the school fields.
Guests heard four lectures during the afternoon. Also speaking were Ralph Bullivant on the enforceability of contracts for the sale of flats, Mike Woolley on construction contract letters of intent and Bill Chandler on restrictive covenants and competition law.
The lectures were followed by guided tours of the zoo and a barbeque.