Village green measures launched
New measures to stop people registering land as a village green to prevent development have been bought in by the Government.
Village green status protects land that has been regularly used for recreation for 20 years, but the Government said "spurious" claims were being made to stop local development such as housing.
The changes will boost growth and provide much needed rural housing and amenities, as well save local authorities £1.3 million a year spent on dealing with applications for registering village greens, ministers said.
But critics said the measures, along with changes to village green laws brought in earlier this year, would prevent many legitimate claims.
Under the new rules, any application for a village green must be submitted within a year of a landowner challenging people's use of the land for informal recreation, instead of two years.
Landowners will be able to prevent land from being registered as a village green through new "landowner statements" which would stop recreational users reaching the 20-year milestone needed to apply to register the land as a green.
Earlier this year, the Government made changes under the Growth and Infrastructure Act which stopped people from being able to submit a village green application on land which had already been earmarked for development.
Rural affairs minister Richard Benyon said: "Towns across the country have been held back from getting the developments they want through misuse of the village green system.
"Rural communities need access to services like healthcare, schools and housing just as much as urban areas. These changes will allow that infrastructure to be built, creating jobs and economic growth."
Stuart Ropke, assistant director of policy and research at the National Housing Federation, said rural communities were among the worst hit by the housing crisis.
"Building just a small number of homes will save these vibrant communities in Britain's treasured countryside. Many want new homes, but opponents have often abused the system and attempted to declare available land a village green.
"Closing this loophole will help rural communities get the homes they so desperately need - housing local people, keeping schools and post offices open and helping rural communities to stay alive."
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said: "The changes introduced today, together with the massive changes to village greens law brought in by the Growth and Infrastructure Act in April, prevent many legitimate claims for greens as well as the few spurious ones.
"Applications for greens have been outlawed on land earmarked for development and now any application must be submitted within one year of a landowner challenging people's use of the land for informal recreation.
"Communities need to identify now any much-loved land which they have enjoyed for 20 years and apply to register it as a green before the land is threatened or their use is challenged."