Modern History
of ‘Town and Village Greens’

 

Continued from The History of Traditional English Village Greens

 

Areas of land that were obviously traditional, real village greens, but which mistakenly were not identified during the initial registration period ending in 1970, could still be entered on the official register.

These were called, informally, ‘class c’ greens.  Their late entry onto the register was permitted by a paragraph in Section 13 of the 1965 Act.

It is through the subsequent exploitation of this well-meaning provision that modern property owners of all kinds - whether public sector, private or charitable - are now exposed to the fake village green scam all over England and Wales.

The Sunningwell case - public history

The genesis of the scam, and the wide-ranging swindle that has subsequently evolved from it, was at a place called Sunningwell in Oxfordshire.

In 1994, planning permission was given for two houses to be built in the village of Sunningwell.

Some people objected to the planning application, but unsuccessfully.

The land belonged to the Church of England, which hoped to raise some money from the property it owned.

But somebody at the Open Spaces Society intervened in the matter.  They suggested resorting to the novel tactic of applying for the registration of the property as a town or village green.

A claim form was duly put in to the registration authority, in this case Oxfordshire County Council.

The Church objected, as owner of the property.  A so-called non-statutory inquiry was held in the village hall.  The objector won, as it was bound to under the law as it was generally understood, and no ‘new’ village green was registered.

The legal appeal in Sunningwell - public history

The application to the registration authority, alleging that the Church’s property was a ‘village green’, had failed.

However, the applicants for village green status carried on the dispute all the way to the House of Lords.

The Sunningwell decision was contained in a 1999 opinion given by Lord Leonard Hoffman.  Lord Hoffman found against the property owner.  Oxfordshire County Council, as the registration authority for the area, was directed to enter the property onto its ‘village green’ register.

Consequences

Now, instead of the child-like innocence of the traditional, historic village green situation that had happily been in existence for centuries, a free-for-all of phoney modern ‘village greens’ was about to develop.

The new, bogus ‘village green’ industry is a direct consequence of the isolated and unfortunate Sunningwell case.

The Sunningwell case - secret history

The Sunningwell parish council could never have afforded from its own resources to pursue a legal case ending up in the House of Lords.

So how was it done?

Rather than negotiating reasonably, litigation hostile to the Church was financed by two unelected bureaucrats running a quango.

The decision that taxpayers’ money would be used to finance lawyers’ fees was made by Paul Johnson, an employee working in the Cheltenham office of a quango called The Countryside Agency, and by Richard Wakeford, another employee.

A dismal part of the calculation, in choosing Sunningwell to be the test case, is that Church members usually do not want appear churlish, or to be seen to be confrontational.

The land that the Church wanted to sell for the two houses amounted to less than a twentieth of its ten-acre glebe.  This tiny proportion of the overall area, situated at the northern edge of its property, would have realised for the Church a sum of between £150,000 and £200,000.

Once the result was known the extensive financial costs of the case were also taken from the Church’s funds, as the losing party in the case.

The decision to fund this litigation was not referred to the Board of the Countryside Agency for its approval.

The floodgates are opened

The opinion of Lord Hoffman, embodied in his Sunningwell judgement, has now made possible the device of pretending that somebody’s property is a village green’.

Examples of the ensuing chaos that this has caused, and the increasing injustices and huge financial costs for all kinds of people, are in Case Studies.

Lord Leonard Hoffman

In addition to the secret history details revealed above, another interesting fact is perhaps not so widely known as it should be.

Despite giving the opinion on the fundamental case affecting the English village green today - the case by which subsequent judges in this country are bound - Leonard Hoffman was in fact born in South Africa.