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Protection for paths, greens and commons

August 15, 2013







The Open Spaces Society,(1) Britain’s oldest national conservation body, has called for public paths, common land(2) and town and village greens(3) to be protected when land is sold.  It wants questions about the existence of these features on a property to be compulsory, so that a prospective purchaser knows about them before he or she buys the land.  At present these questions are only optional and it is possibly to buy a property without knowing that the public has rights on it.


The society has responded to a consultation by the Law Society which is updating the forms for prospective purchasers.  However the consultation was limited and the society has called for more fundamental changes than the Law Society is proposing.


Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘We have argued that questions about the existence of public paths, including claims for public paths, common land and town and village greens should be on the list of compulsory inquiries.  Too often purchasers discover later that land that they have bought has public rights over it.’


In the case of a path the public right is to pass and repass on foot, horseback, bike, by carriage or in a vehicle, depending on the status of the route.  For a common, the public has the right to walk (and on some to ride), and on a village green local people have rights of recreation.  It is illegal to obstruct a public path, or to encroach on or develop a green or, without ministerial consent, a common.  A purchaser of such land would be severely restricted in what he could do.


Kate continues: ‘It is pretty devastating for a purchaser later to discover that the land falls into one of these categories.  Such ignorance has led to problems where paths have been blocked and commons built on.  Much private and public money is wasted on these muddles.


‘It is far better to know what you are buying from the start.  We hope the Law Society will amend the forms so that these questions are compulsory,’ says Kate.



Notes for editors


1.         The Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body.  It campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them.


2.         Common is land subject to rights of common, to graze animals or collect wood for instance, or waste land of the manor not subject to rights.  The public has the right to walk on all commons, and to ride on many of them.  Before development can be carried out which affects a common, the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (in England) is required. 


3.         Land can be registered as a town or village green if it has been used by local people for ‘lawful sports and pastimes’ (ie informal recreation) for 20 years freely and openly.  Once registered the land is protected from development by nineteenth-century legislation. 


CONTACT:        Kate Ashbrook

Kate Ashbrook

General Secretary

The Open Spaces Society

25a Bell Street

Henley-on-Thames RG9 2BA



The Open Spaces Society is a registered charity (no 1144840) and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England & Wales (no 7846516).


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