13 June 2010

Some Facts Behind A Threatening Legal Letter

The Campaign For Real Village Greens has received a letter from a Head of Legal Services which started "I am instructed to write to you on behalf of New Charter Housing Trust Ltd in relation to an article...".  It concerned the 'The Neighbour From Hell?' article and continued: 
"I am instructed to advise you that the use of the photograph of Mr Kibble and one of the Company's logos are considered an infringement of the Company's copyright."
 The 'fair dealing' and 'de minimis' defences, among several others, against any such allegation of infringement should be enough to ensure that this threat goes no further.  However, the fact that the threat was made in this case - and made urgently (within 72 hours) - shows that being associated with spurious village greens can often touch a nerve.

The case of the threatening legal letter also helps to highlight just some of the key problems relating to the new industry of modern spurious 'village green' claims:

The 'Any person may make a claim' issue

Anyone, literally anyone, may make a claim that somebody else's privately-owned property is a 'village green'.  It seems mad, and it is certainly grossly unfair and unjust, but that is the situation under the law as it stands today.

For example Mr Alan Kibble, mentioned in the threatening letter from New Charter, only moved to the area where he has claimed a 'village green' a matter of months before sending the claim form in.  He had no personal knowledge of the land for any reasonable length of time.

This is very common and applies to a lot of these claims.

There is no fee or charge for sending in one of these claim forms.  Again, totally mad but true.

The 'Being a reasonable landowner leads you to being punished' issue

In a case in which New Charter itself is currently threatened with effectively losing property in a spurious 'village green' case, its spokesman David Rigby pointed out:
"New Charter has maintained this land for recreational use for people who live nearby and in association with the housing we provide.  Although we applied for planning consent to build some more social housing on a small area of the site which we own, we have no proposals to develop further."
However, in an attempt to prevent homeless people having a roof over their heads, or additional people enjoying the help that social and affordable housing provides, Stephen Hilton (pictured) has sent in a claim that the New Charter land is a so-called 'village green'.

The case is at Hazelhurst Road in Ashton-under-Lyne.

The selfishness in the spurious village green industry

It is fair comment, relevant to these matters, to point out that Mr Hilton and his spurious 'village green' claim friends don't mind taking the benefits of social/ affordable housing for themselves.

It is other people that they want to prevent having the benefits.

The Hazelhurst Road case helps to illustrate that the essence of nimbyism is selfishness and lack of pity for others in a worse situation than themselves.

9 June 2010

Next Media Coverage

The nice people at You and Yours (BBC Radio 4) are planning their latest feature on the modern spurious 'village green' scandal.  At the time of writing, it is scheduled for broadcast this coming Friday 11 June 2010.  The programme starts at 12 noon

Legal State Of Play, At Start of New Parliament

In Local Government Lawyer on 26 April 2010, Paul Denholm examined the increasingly common practice of invoking ‘village greens’ laws as a means of thwarting planned and legitimate development. Many of the claims that a property is a 'village green' are completely spurious.  Here is an edited extract from the excellent article:

Local activists opposed to developments are increasingly gaining the whip-hand with frivolous 'village green' applications, claiming recreational use of land that is part of development sites. It is a highly effective tactic.

The claims are cheap and easy to make without the applicant having to give any undertaking for damages, as would be the case, for example, if an injunction were being sought through the courts to enforce a restrictive covenant.

The opponents of development make extensive use of social networks and websites to help them gain support for the registration of a Town and Village Green application.

A recent study by Defra of 48 Town and Village Green applications revealed that, in all 48 cases, the application for Town and Village Green status would have jeopardised the ability to develop the site. In the successful cases, legitimate development plans would have been permanently stopped, including schemes driven by local authorities such as leisure facilities, employment generating developments, regeneration and affordable housing.

The impact of registering a claim is always damaging. At best, an application can delay a local authority’s regeneration scheme or other development. At worst, a successful registration will put an end to the scheme. It will usually cost a fortune in legal fees.

What’s more the local authority and its partner developer could have incurred huge costs on an abandoned scheme and be left with land of little value. The local authority may also suffer colossal embarrassment for non-delivery of a regeneration scheme and its associated social and economic benefits.

Successful applications have resulted in town or village green registrations over beaches, wasteland and highway verges.

Recent high profile examples of this activity have generated media interest and public debate. Many applications have been highly contentious. The highest court in the land has considered the law relating to the registration of new town or village greens on four occasions in the last 10 years, with decisions in R v Oxfordshire County Council v Sunningwell Parish Council [2000] 1 AC 335; R (on the application of Beresford) v Sunderland City Council [2004] 1 AC 889; Oxfordshire County Council v Oxford City Council [2006] 2 AC 674; R (on the application of Lewis) v Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council & anor [2010] UKSC 11 on 3 March 2010.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Redcar case, a line of legal authority was being developed by the courts to restrict the registration of new town or village greens.

According to this line of authority, if there was a material conflict between the recreational use of land by a significant number of the inhabitants of an area, and that recreational use ‘deferred’ to that of the landowner, that recreational use did not meet the statutory requirement in s15 of the Commons Act that such use be ‘as of right’.  This is because it did not have the outward appearance to the landowner of the assertion of a legal right. However, in the Supreme Court’s decision in the Redcar case, it was held that ‘deference’ by recreational users does not prevent recreational use from accruing use ‘as of right’.

As a result of this recent decision, landowners will need to take active measures to exclude trespassing recreational users and/or mitigate and manage their risks by ensuring that access to the site is by permission only.

If the number of applications to register town or village greens continues to thwart developments in increasing numbers, it is conceivable that this will force a review and eventual reform of the law.

Defra has already stated that it proposes consulting on whether there is a need for reform of the town and village green registration system, and the options for reform that exist.

Paul Denholm is First Title’s expert underwriter in this field. He is also a planning lawyer who has worked in local government in England and Wales, as well as internationally

8 June 2010

New Housing Minister Must Continue His Good Track Record Now He Is In Power

Dare we hope that the shameful antics of modern fake 'village green' merchants, who since 1999 have disgraced this once-glorious icon of England, are finally going to be brought to an end?

Nobody is against the traditional, honest English village green.  They are in no way under threat.  However the modern fake 'village green' claimants tie up property owners and local councils alike in endless red tape, as well as causing countless social damage and financial costs.

The new Housing Minister is Grant Shapps MP (pictured right).  When he was Shadow Minister, he asked the following very pertinent question in Parliament:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) of 14 December 2009, whether the planned consultation on registration of village greens will consider restrictions on the ability to register a village green."
Restrictions on the ability to make a claim that somebody's property is a 'village green' (anybody can do it, the way the law has stood since 1999) are long overdue.

We have all seen from Yes Minister the tactics that civil servants and populist unaccountable lobby groups use to obstruct newly elected politicians.

Where the great village green swindle is concerned, please let the honourable Grant Shapps be made of sterner stuff.

7 June 2010

The Neighbour From Hell?

Alan Kibble has been seen on TV, featuring quite a lot in the BBC programme Neighbourhood Watched and making media appearances in connection with publicity for the programme.

Working for a registered social landlord (a housing association in plain English) Alan Kibble laid down the law on screen to bad neighbours and 'neighbours from hell'.  Alan Kibble is an enforcement officer from New Charter Housing Trust and has attended the Prince’s Trust team as a development coach.

However, one of Mr Kibble's neighbours might not share such a rosy view of him.  Alan Kibble has put in a claim that the neighbour's privately-owned property is a 'village green'.

As a result of Mr Kibble's claim form sent to the council, the neighbour looks set to have his property effectively taken off him with no compensation.

The property is in the area called Heyrod, in Tameside, Greater Manchester.  New Charter Housing Trust Group is also based in Tameside.

The decision-maker in this matter is Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.  Tameside MBC is not neutral, being the former owner of much of New Charter's housing business and working closely with New Charter and its staff on a daily basis.

A small, unincorporated and unelected association of individuals calling themselves 'Heyrod Residents Association' has the ear of local councillors and, through them, the decision-maker council.

On the claim form that looks like it might now result in the property owner effectively being deprived of his land, Mr Kibble describes himself as Deputy Chairman of Heyrod Residents Assocation.  He gives his contact email address on his claim form as Alan.Kibble@newcharter.co.uk


New Charter Housing Trust Ltd's Head of Legal Services has written on 11 June 2010 offering a view that the above logo in this blog article is 'considered an infringement of the company's copyright'.  As a result of that letter, the following note is added:  The incidental reproduction of this item (the above small logo) is in no way for commercial gain; if there is an infringement it is clearly a minor infringement; it has no independent economic significance whatsoever; and it is reproduced here for the legitimate purposes of review and criticism.  Use of the above small logo in this particular context is in the legitimate public interest.

New Charter Housing Trust Ltd's Head of Legal Services has written on 11 June 2010 offering a view that an image of Alan Kibble in this blog article is 'considered an infringement of the company's copyright'.  As a result of that letter, the following note is added:  The use of this item (an image of Alan Kibble) is in no way for commercial gain; if there is an infringement it is clearly a minor infringement; it has no independent economic significance whatsoever; and an image of Alan Kibble is reproduced here for the legitimate purposes of review and criticism.

Use of the above image of Alan Kibble in this specific context is clearly in the legitimate public interest.