Commons Registration

November 17th, 2014 by James Goudie KC


County Councils in England, District Councils in England for an area without a County Council, London Borough Councils and County or County Borough Councils in Wales are “commons registration authorities”.  The commons registration authority in relation to any land is the authority in whose area the land is situated.  Where any land falls within the area of two or more commons registration authorities, the authorities may by agreement provide for one of them to be the commons registration authority in relation to the whole of the land.

The Commons Registration Act 1965 (“the 1965 Act”) created a legal record of common land, town and village greens and rights over the land by requiring that all were registered by a cut-off point, failing which they lost that status. The compilation of the original registers resulted in many mistakes and anomalies, eg land was recorded as common land despite having never been part of the common. Many of these mistakes were not noticed until after the registers became conclusive on 31 July 1970 but there were insufficient powers to correct them. The 1965 Act also failed to require that registers be kept updated when events took place that affected the information in the registers. Consequently the registers currently maintained under the 1965 Act are not an accurate record of common land, town or village greens or the rights over them.

Part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 (“the 2006 Act”) 2006 Act provided for applications to amend the information in the registers to reflect contemporary events, anomalies and mistakes, and unregistered events.  It also provided that changes to the information in the registers are only considered lawful when recorded in the register.

The 2006 Act received Royal Assent on 19 July 2006.  Part 1 of the Act provides for the maintenance of, and amendment of the information in, the registers of common land and of town and village greens which were established under the 1965 Act. Section 1 provides that commons registration authorities shall continue to keep registers of common land and of town and village greens (ie those originally prepared under the 1965 Act). Sections 2 to 5 provide for the purpose of the registers, the definition of commons registration authorities and the land to which Part 1 applies, which is most of England and Wales.  Sections 6 to 17 specify the types of applications to amend the registers to reflect contemporary events which affect the information contained in the registers.  Section 18 provides for the conclusiveness of the registers, eg land (i.e. common land) is deemed to be subject to rights of common upon the registration of the right. Section 19 allows for the correction of the registers in prescribed circumstances, eg where the commons registration authority made a mistake when it made an entry in the register.   Section 20 requires that the registers must be made available for inspection by any person. Section 21 provides for official copies of the registers. Section 22 gives effect to Schedule 2.  This allows for the registration of common land and town and village greens that were not registered, and for the removal of land that was wrongly registered as common land or town or village green, under the 1965 Act. Section 23 gives effect to Schedule 3.  This provides for a transitional period during which historic events which were not recorded in the registers can now be recorded.

Section 24(1) of the 2006 Act provides the Secretary of State (“the SoS”) with powers to make Regulations that provide for the making and determination of applications to amend the registers under Part 1.  Subsection (2) lists the matters that the Regulations may in particular provide for, which includes: the form of an application, the information to be supplied with one, notice requirements, the making of objections and the persons who must be consulted, the holding of inquiries, the evidence to be taken into account. Subsection (2A) provides the SoS with powers to make Regulations for the fees payable for applications, including where the person who determines the application is different from the person to whom it was made. Subsection (3) provides that the Regulations can specify the persons entitled to make certain types of application. Subsection (6) provides the SoS with powers to make Regulations concerning the making and determination of proposals made by commons registration authorities (ie applications the authority makes to itself), and subsection (7) lists the matters that such Regulations may in particular include. Subsection (8) provides that the appropriate national authority (in England, the SoS) may make regulations to appoint persons to discharge functions of a commons registration authority in relation to applications or proposals.

The Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2008 (“the 2008 Regulations”) implemented Part 1 in the seven “pioneer” local authority areas in October 2008. Those authorities comprise: Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Cornwall Council, Devon County Council, County of Herefordshire District Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Kent County Council and Lancashire County Council.

The Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2014, SI 2014/3038 (“the 2014 Regulations”) provide for the maintenance of the registers of common land and town and village greens, including the procedure for applications to amend them under Part 1 of the 2006 Act. The registers can be amended to add new information or amend or remove existing information. Amendments can be made to reflect contemporary changes (Sections 6 to 15 of the 2006 Act), mistakes and anomalies (Section 19 and Schedule 2 to the 2006 Act) and historic unregistered events (Schedule 3 to the 2006 Act).

The 2014 Regulations apply in full to the areas of Cumbria and North Yorkshire (“the 2014 registration authorities”) and the pioneer areas (“the original registration authorities”, which were previously subject to the Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2008, which the 2014 Regulations now replace). Cumbria and North Yorkshire are required to review their registers to identify anomalies and to process fifteen types of applications. The 2014 Regulations partially apply elsewhere in England to allow five types of applications to correct mistakes in the registers. The five types of applications are those under: Section 19(2)(a) (correction of mistakes made by an authority when it made an entry in the register), and paragraphs 6, 7, 8 and 9 of Schedule 2, which allow for the removal of certain types of land that were wrongly registered as common land or town or village green.

The 2014 Regulations require applications to be submitted to commons registration authorities.  They have the power to charge fees, set by themselves in relation to most types of applications (certain types are specified as liable to no fee, due to a public interest). Applications must be referred to the Planning Inspectorate for determination where the authority has an interest in the outcome of an application. Applications to correct a mistake, or add land to, or remove land from, the registers must also be referred provided objections have been received from persons with a legal interest in the land.

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