HL Deb 16 November 2000 vol 619 cc513-6

.—(1) Section 22 of the Commons Registration Act 1965 (interpretation) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), in the definition of "town or village green" for the words after "lawful sports and pastimes" there is substituted "or which falls within subsection (1A) of this section.

(3) After that subsection there is inserted—

"(1A) Land falls within this subsection if it is land on which for not less than twenty years a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged in lawful sports and pastimes as of right, and either—

  1. (a) continue to do so, or
  2. (b) have ceased to do so for not more than such period as may be prescribed, or determined in accordance with prescribed provisions.

(1B) If regulations made for the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (1A) of this section provide for the period mentioned in that paragraph to come to an end unless prescribed steps are taken, the regulations may also require registration authorities to make available in accordance with the regulations, on payment of any prescribed fee, information relating to the taking of any such steps.".").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment honours the commitment that the Government gave in Committee to bring forward proposals on the registration of town and village greens. We understand the difficulties in registering land as a town or village green, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. We share her wish to clarify and update the definitions in the Commons Registration Act 1965.

The amendment directly addresses two of the noble Baroness's concerns. It makes it clear that qualifying use must be by a significant number of people from a particular locality or neighbourhood. That removes the need for applicants to demonstrate that use is predominantly by people from the locality and means that use by people from outside that locality will no longer have to be taken into account by registration authorities. It will be sufficient for a significant number of local people to use the site as of right for lawful recreation and pastimes.

Secondly, the amendment addresses the problem of applications being accepted only where it can be demonstrated that users come from a discrete area, such as a village or parish. That is not easy in large built-up areas. The amendment introduces the concept of neighbourhood and provides that users should come either from a locality or from a neighbourhood within a locality.

The final part of the equation has proved a little more difficult to resolve. The Government have difficulties with the proposal that land should remain subject to registration as a green many years after its use for lawful sports and pastimes has ceased. That would have been the effect of the amendment tabled in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. That amendment provided that qualifying use had only to end after 31st July 1990. That is already 10 years ago. Such a provision could significantly interfere with planned development.

However, the Government accept that the current interpretation of the law, which is that qualifying use must have taken place virtually up to the date of the application for registration, is onerous. It makes it difficult for applicants to bring together in time all the necessary evidence of use over a 20-year period.

Therefore, our amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to establish an appropriate time limit within which an application to register must be lodged. At present, we are minded to make that two years. We believe that it is an appropriate period within which it is reasonable to expect an applicant to be able to draw up the evidence necessary to support an application. If no application is lodged within that two-year period, the owner or developer will be able to take whatever steps are necessary to develop the land in the certainty that an application for registration as a green cannot be entertained.

The Government will of course consult widely on the content of the regulations proposed under this amendment, which I hope the House will be able to accept. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I thank the Government for bringing forward this amendment in the short time they had available to resolve these difficult issues. In particular, I thank the Minister for explaining subsection (3)(b), which was quite difficult to interpret. There is no doubt that these smaller open spaces are important to people, and I believe that this provision will be valuable.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Government anticipate that regulations will be made within a fairly short time. She mentioned a timescale of two years for paragraph (b). Presumably, that is the same time that would be required for regulations to be made. I am slightly nervous about that issue because we know that greens are being lost to developers who exploit the loopholes. I wish to establish that the timescale will be adequate in order to cover that issue.

I also appreciate the Minister's definition of what the Government have in mind in relation to the term "neighbourhood". As I understand it, the intention is to widen the definition of "locality" so that there can be no argument if people from an area generally use a green. Whether it is a locality or a neighbourhood, that is an adequate test. I thank the Government for that.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, with regard to the noble Baroness's second question, the intention when introducing the phrase was to clarify that the area from which the users come does not have to follow an administrative boundary. I understand that the timescale is approximately the same. Therefore, I am sure that the noble Baroness will find it acceptable. Should I find that I am in error, I shall of course write to her.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 16 [Repeals]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 259 to 261:

Page 144, line 3, at end insert—
("1980 c. 66. The Highways Act 1980. Section 134(5).")
Page 144, line 5, column 3, at end insert—
("In section 57(1), the words "on such scale as may be so prescribed,".")
Page 146, line 16, at end insert—
Chapter Short title Extent of repeal
1981 c. 69. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In section 39(1), the words "both in the countryside and".")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 92 [Commencement]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 262 to 263: Page 61, line 14, leave out ("and 16") and insert ("to 17"). Page 61, line 21, after ("10,") insert ("11"). Page 61, line 22, at end insert— ("sections (Local access forums) and (Local access forums: supplementary).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 264 to 264B not moved.]

Clause 93 [Interpretation, short title and extent]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 265: Page 61, line 36, at end insert— (""local access forum" means a local access forum established under section (Local access forums).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.