How The Swindle Works

Nimbys up and down England have seized on a new scam.

They are abusing the well-meaning village green laws of England.  In doing so, these anti-development activists have recently created a travesty of the genuine, traditional rural English village green.

There are a number of variations on this cynical swindle.  But put simply, it works along the following lines.

The original, traditional situation

A landowner or property owner (‘the owner’) wants to carry out some improvements or proposes to develop their property.

The owner might be a private individual, a business offering employment for local people, a charity, a body providing public services such as a local authority or National Health Service trust, and so on.

A planning application is made by the owner in respect of their land or property.

On receiving and publicising the planning application, the duly appointed planning authority carries out the relevant consultations in the area.

Then, after due process held in public, a decision regarding the proposed development or improvement is made by the planning authority.

The new, bizarre situation

Ever since a legal case called Sunningwell was decided in the House of Lords in 1999, things have become more bizarre and a great deal more convoluted.

Sunningwell was what lawyers call a ‘floodgates’ case.  It didn’t even concern planning law, but rather an obscure point of village green law.  The opinion handed down in this legal case has now made the great village green swindle possible.

The village greens registration system is entirely separate from the planning system, and completely over-rides it.

The situation is now therefore as follows:

Some or other local anti-development activist, who does not own the property in question and in fact has nothing whatsoever to do with the property, decides they want to stop anything new happening at that property.

A form is obtained, headed ‘evidence questionnaire’.  Some blank copies are made.  A few of these are quickly filled in.

They get some or other neighbour to say that they have taken a dog for a walk at the property.  If possible, they find some local children who, perfectly naturally, have occasionally gone to the property for the purposes of playing there.

No matter what the property looks like, no matter that the property is in fact tarmaced, or is a lake, or is cultivated by agricultural crops, or even that there are large brick and concrete buildings standing on it, the local nimby or anti-development activist can now claim in law that it is a ‘village green’.

The completed forms are then sent in to the Commons Registration Authority for the area, and the entire planning system is completely bypassed.

Consequences for the land

Once land is registered as a green, registration provides it with the highest degree of protection afforded to any land in England.

It becomes a criminal offence to cause any damage to the green or to undertake any act which interrupts the use or enjoyment, or to build on it or encroach onto it (for example by enclosure or fencing)

Consequences for the property owner

There is a further, possibly even more disturbing, aspect to the fake village green industry that has recently grown up.

The people who carry out the great village green swindle don’t even own the property that they are making ‘village green’ claims over.

The effect of the swindle is that the legitimate owner is deprived of his or her property.

There is no compensation paid. There is no opportunity given to the owner of the property for reasonable negotiation, or indeed any negotiation.  The property is just effectively taken off them for public use, and that is that.

The property loss is on top of any losses for legal costs paid out by the owner.

The impact on a private citizen of having their property rights taken from them in this way can be disastrous.  The shameful failure of the law to protect them means that, in recent years, families and private individuals in England and Wales have been ruined by falling victim to the ‘village green’ scam.


References on this site to the law only apply to England and Wales.  Scotland has a more sensible, logical legal system in this respect, and the great village green swindle is not possible there.

‘Town greens’ and village greens are legally identical: there is no difference other than name.