The Open Spaces Society, Britain’s leading national pressure group for common land, is dismayed that environment minister John Gardiner has refused to extend the deadline for re-registering lost commons beyond the end of December 2020. Founded in 1865, it campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them.
The Society is concerned that, in seven English local authority areas, the deadline for registering lost commons is 31 December. The research to uncover lost commons requires visits to records offices and other archives, which in many counties have not been possible since mid-March. In order that unregistered commons should not be lost for ever, the society argues that the deadline should be extended.
The society sent Lord Gardiner information about the record offices in the seven pioneer areas. At the end of August, the archives in Cornwall, Hertfordshire and Lancashire were still closed. The others will either open in September or are already open with reduced visiting times and capacity, making research difficult and more time-consuming.
In order to extend the deadline, it is necessary to amend the end date in the regulations. Lord Gardiner has responded that there is no time for this because of the large amount of high-priority legislation needed to combat the pandemic and exit the European Union and that sufficient time has already been allowed for re-registration since the regulations were established in 2014.
Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said, “We have lost nearly one-twelfth of the total time for registering commons through the closure of record offices. The ability to register of common land is important because it entails rescuing commons which were wrongly omitted from the registers in the first place. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the record straight, and enable the lost land to be protected and enjoyed by the public.
‘The government is regrettably selective about which deadlines it extends for the pandemic and favours those which affect the economy. It has extended time limits for planning permission, vehicle tests and filing accounts, among many other purposes. But, notwithstanding the tsunami of ‘Coronavirus’ legislation to achieve these extensions and for other purposes, the government says there is no time and no need to legislate for commons.
‘We shall continue to press the government to extend this deadline alongside all the others which will be extended to suit the economy. We believe government has got its priorities wrong.”
Common land 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. Commons are protected in that works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, via the Planning Inspectorate, under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.
Commons had to be registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965, which allowed only three years for registration, after which any eligible but unregistered land ceased to be common. However, in nine ‘pilot areas’ of England, and in Wales, it is possible to register unrecorded commons which meet particular criteria. The deadline in seven of the pioneer areas is 31 December 2020, but it can be extended by amending the Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2014.
The seven pioneer areas with the deadline of 31 December 2020 are: Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Cornwall Council, Devon County Council, County of Herefordshire District Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Kent County Council, Lancashire County Council.