Last edited 02 Feb 2016

Commons Act 2006

The Commons Act 2006 is the main piece of legislation relating to common land and town or village greens. It repealed the Commons Registration Act 1965 and received royal assent in July 2006.

In England and Wales, there are approximately 572,000 hectares of common land (2015) and at one time, this figure was far higher. The majority of common land is under private ownership and the owners are subject to the ‘rights of common’ which are held by other individuals over the land. The rights of common could include the right to graze stock or allow pigs to forage, to fish, to collect bracken and so on.

The majority of commons are still used for agriculture and help serve the economic interest of farming communities. In addition, they are valuable for their landscape, wildlife and often archaeological interests, as well as public enjoyment. More than half of all common land in England has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and across the majority of common land, there is a right to public access.

In 2002, the government’s Common Land Policy Statement was published in response to a consultation relating to common land and village greens. The statement set out the intention for future legislation relating to common land, town and village greens. The Commons Act follows on from the recommendations in relation to the registration of common land and town or village greens, works and fencing on common land and the agricultural use and management of common land.

The Commons Act consists of four main sections:

  • Part 1 of the Act allows for changes to the registration of common land, village and town greens. Further information on this section of the act can be found in, ‘Common land registers: how to register and deregister common land’.
  • Part 2 of the Act allows the appropriate national authority to establish commons councils with functions in relation to the management of agricultural activities, vegetation and the exercise of rights of common on common land (or on town or village greens where rights of common exist over such land).
  • Part 3 of the Act details the provision which prohibit carrying out certain works on some common land without the consent of the appropriate national authority. It also makes provisions for how consent may be obtained. It replaces section 194 of the Law of Property Act 1925.
  • Part 4 of the Act details the provisions conferring powers of intervention on the appropriate national authority in situations where unauthorised agricultural activities are being undertaken and damaging the common. It also maintains rights enabling local authorities to step in to protect unclaimed common land and town or village greens from unlawful interference, and includes amendments to the Commons Act 1899, which confers power on local authorities to make schemes for the regulation of commons.

The Planning Portal contains further guidance and information in relation to common land.

Under section 15(1) of the Commons Act, anyone can register land as a village green if it has been used by local people for lawful sports and pastimes without permission, force or secrecy for at least 20 years. However, in 2010, the Penfold Review (Review of non-planning consents) suggested that applications to register greens were sometimes made solely to frustrate developments that had already received planning permission. As a consequence, a number of reforms were made. See Village green registration for more information.

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