Town or village greens share a similar history to common land. However, they are defined separately for the purposes of the Commons Registration Act 1965.
Village greens are usually areas of land within defined settlements or geographical areas which local inhabitants can go onto for the exercise of lawful sports and pastimes. Typically, these might include organised or ad hoc games, picnics, fetes and other similar activities. Whilst land forming town or village greens may be privately owned, many greens are owned and maintained by local authorities, local Parish or Community Councils. Some greens may also have rights of common (that is, grazing of livestock) over them.
Village greens enjoy statutory protection under two nineteenth century Acts:
Under this section, it is a criminal offence for any person to damage any fence of a town or village green; or wilfully and without lawful authority to put animals or cattle on the green; or wilfully to place any materials upon the green or do anything to interrupt the use or enjoyment of the green as a place for recreation and enjoyment. Offences are summary in nature and are tried in the Magistrates' Courts.
Under this section, encroachments or enclosures, or the placing of any structures upon town or village greens, are a public nuisance. Work carried out with a view to better enjoyment of the town or village green or recreation ground (linked to enhancing its recreational use) is not unlawful.
In both the above instances, legal action would be brought in the Magistrates' Courts. An action may be brought under Section 12 of the Inclosure Act, 1857 by either the Parish/Community Council (or the District Council if there is no Parish Council), or the landowner. In the case of Section 29 of the Commons Act, 1876, the process is the same as for the Inclosure Act, but an action can also be brought by any inhabitant of the Parish.
The likely outcome of any successful prosecution in the Magistrates' Courts would be a fine upon the person responsible for the encroachment or works.
Section 68 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 permits the grant of statutory easements for vehicular access over land (including common land and village greens) where it is currently an offence to drive a vehicle, subject to certain qualifying criteria being met. Regulations now made by the Secretary of State include provisions for the grant of easements, compensation to be paid by the property owner to the landowner, dispute resolution procedures, etc.