Landowner Development: The Olympic Impact
To fulfil a legacy promise of the 2012 Olympics, Sport England have been focusing on improving facility provision and developing sport at a community level.
Landowners are being approached to support this drive in local communities by dedicating land for sporting and recreational use. Whilst such philanthropic actions are to be encouraged, there are considerations to bear in mind, if there is also development potential:
Declaration as Community Asset
Under the Localism Act 2011, Parish councils and local voluntary and community organisations will be able to nominate local land or buildings to be included in a list of Community Assets maintained by local authorities. A property will be included where its current primary use furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, and where it is realistic to think that this use will continue. Land dedicated for sports and recreation could qualify as a community asset. Listed community assets will have a local land charge registered against them.
If an asset on this list comes up for sale, the community has a right to bid. However, all is not lost – this right is only a “right to bid” for community assets, not a right to buy or to force a sale. There is no obligation for the landowner to sell to the community.
Where a landowner wishes to sell a listed “Community Asset”, there is a procedure he must follow:
- The Landowner must serve notice on the local authority;
- There will then be a moratorium on any sale for a period of 6 weeks (from service of notice), to allow community groups to develop a bid and raise the money to buy the asset;
- If a group expresses an interest, a further moratorium of 6 months (from service of notice) will apply;
- Upon the expiry of the moratorium period, the Landowner is free to sell to anyone, but any disposal must take place within 18 months of service of the notice or the whole process needs to be repeated.
This timetable requires careful consideration if you are considering the grant of an option or entering into a conditional contract.
Designation as Village Green
Designation of your sports field as a village green will inhibit any future development of the property. Under the Commons Act 2006, anyone can apply to register land as a town or village green where:
"a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years".
“As of right” means “without force, secrecy or permission”. Where 20 years use has not yet been enjoyed, a village green registration can be avoided by granting permission for such recreational use such as granting a licence to a community group and erecting notices stating the facilities are used “With the kind permission of [ ]”. It is important to take advice on the wording of any permission granted to ensure it is sufficient to prevent any claim for registration of the land as a village green.
National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
The NPPF which came into force on 27th March 2012 recognises that local plans are the key to delivering sustainable development. Neighbourhood planning was introduced under the Localism Act and will impact on future development in your area. If your property has development potential but is not included within the local plan, it would be prudent to get involved with the production of your neighbourhood plan.
A neighbourhood plan must generally conform with the development plan for your area, but the NPPF states that a neighbourhood plan can permit more development - not less. Even though your proposed development may not be in accordance with the local plan for your area, a neighbourhood plan allocating your land would take precedence over non strategic policies in the local plan.
Parish councils and other community organisations can now apply to develop a neighbourhood plan for their area. The plan can allocate land for development and grant planning permission in certain cricumstances. The plan will be subject to independent examination and a local referendum but if the majority of voters are in favour, then the Local Planning Authority must adhere to it.
NPPF Policies to be aware of, if considering development of your sports field:
Para 74 - advises that existing recreation grounds should not be built upon unless they are surplus to requirements, or a replacement is provided. The current use of your property will therefore be a material planning consideration.
Par 72 - introduces a new “Local Green Space” designation for land which is close to a centre of population, local in character and special to the community because of its recreational value. A recreation ground falls within these criteria and could be designated through the neighbourhood plan. This would effectively rule out any new development other than in very special circumstances.
The Olympic Creed stresses that the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part. We suggest that taking part in the neighbourhood plan process is essential if landowners are to protect the development potential of their land. Advice taken before land is dedicated for sport or recreational use, could help you to navigate the pitfalls of the new legislation and win not just the heats, but the final too.
For more information please contact the Landowner Development & Planning team.