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Deregistration of town and village greens – good news for landowners

07 February 2014
The Supreme Court has recently made an important ruling on when the register of town and village greens (TVGs) can be rectified to remove land erroneously registered (Adamson and others v Paddico (267) Limited and Mrs Gill Taylor v Betterment Properties (Weymouth) Limited [2014] UK SC7).  Given that the registration of land as a TVG effectively prevents all development taking place, this case is important in removing a potential hurdle for landowners wishing to have their land deregistered, although those commentators throwing their arms in the air and declaring that this decision gives a "green light" to developers to build on TVGs are overstating its importance somewhat.

There has always existed a right to apply to rectify the register of TVGs, including seeking deregistration of land.  However, this rectification can only take place where the court is satisfied that the registration of the land as a TVG was flawed in the first place and it remains the case that in order for land to be deregistered the landowner must be able to demonstrate that the statutory test for registration was never met.

What the case does do, though, is ensure flexibility as to when an application for rectification can be made.  The law does not prescribe a deadline for making an application and in one of the two conjoined cases before the Court 13 years passed between registration of the land and the application for rectification.  Local residents argued that the land should not be deregistered as deregistration would be unfair to members of the public who had, in effect, grown used to the areas being TVGs.  They argued that many people had brought properties overlooking the TVGs in reliance on the fact that they were registered, and that it would be unfair for everyone who had been using the land since registration to now lose the right to do so.

The Court, though, held that the starting point should be the landowners' rights and given that those rights had been "severely curtailed"  for some time by a registration which should never have taken place, the Court found that members of the public needed to show significant prejudice in order to prevent rectification of the register.  Delay is not immaterial, and there will be cases where delay does make it unjust to rectify the register, given the prejudice it would cause, but that was not the case here.

Accordingly landowners now have the comfort of knowing that they have some leeway in deciding whether to apply to have their land deregistered as a TVG, where the original registration was flawed.  However, given the greater risk that local inhabitants will be able to show prejudice as time passes, it is still advisable in all cases to act as promptly as possible.

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