Fields in Trust has been protecting recreational land ever since our founding in 1925. In the time since we have protected 2,852 parks and green spaces across the UK forever: in perpetuity. Just what do we mean when we say a space is 'protected' though? How can it be achieved? What does it do?
In a nutshell, protection is a legal agreement between Fields in Trust and a space's landowner that they will retain it for use as a green space, usually a public park, playing field or recreation ground, in perpetuity. Over the years since our founding we have used a number of mechanisms for protecting land, from taking ownership in the early years, to restrictive covenants to Deeds of Trust.
In the mid-2000s we worked with a major legal firm to develop our own, unique instrument called a "Deed of Dedication". Due to the different nature of the legal system in Scotland we use a similar instrument known as a "Minute of Agreement".
The Deed, or Minute, is agreed with the landowner and sets out what they can and can't do with a space, without needing to consult Fields in Trust. We think it is important that the local community remaining fully involved in the space and so the ownership and management of the land remains locally with the existing landowner, usually the local authority or town or parish council, and there is no requirement to rename the space. We do provide a plaque which we ask is installed somewhere on the space to let everyone who uses it know that it is protected in perpetuity.
Why use a Deed of Dedication then? There many forms of protection for recreational land out there, including covenants, town and village green registration and the planning process. Even if a space already has one of these on it, however, a Deed of Dedication will strengthen the protection. The Deed is a robust yet flexible way of achieving protection.
In protecting land, Fields in Trust will work with the landowner to draw up an agreement that provides sufficient protection, but which takes account of local circumstances. It is for this reason that each Deed will often be unique to the specific space.
Once completed the restriction within the Deed is registered with the Land Registry, meaning any check that is made on the land will highlight the protection that is on it and prevent disposal, generally meaning sale or lease, without the consent of Fields in Trust. A Deed can either be charitable or non-charitable. If it is the former then both Fields in Trust and charity law will ensure the protection, whilst if it is the latter then Fields in Trust will ensure the protection.
We do recognise that circumstances can change, however, and for this reason the Deed does have a certain level of flexibility built into it. In general, changes to the space which are ancillary to its use - i.e. supporting the primary activities taking place - are usually fine and do not require our consent. Anything which is not ancillary to a space's use, such as buildings, commercial leases and changes of use, can be permissible but generally require our consent. A landowner can seek this consent by making an application through our Field Change Request procedure, with any such applications being considered by our experienced Land and Planning Committee of Trustees.
In rare cases a landowner may wish to remove a piece of land from protection. This can be possible, through a Field Change Request application, but in general we will require a new space, which is of equal or better quality than the existing protected space and which serves the same community, to be protected in return.
In order to be protected in perpetuity with Fields in Trust, a space must meet a number of minimum criteria. These are set out in full here and ensure that the land is open and accessible to the local community with a principle use for outdoor sport, play or recreation.
The protection process begins with completion of a short application form. From there our local Development Manager for your area will guide you through the process. Legal work on the Deed of Dedication is performed by our own legal team, although we do recommend seeking independent legal advice and support from a solicitor if you do not have this expertise in-house. There is no cost involved, except for registering the protection at Land Registry which varies depending on the number of titles involved but is generally £80.
As protection is a legal agreement between Fields in Trust and the landowner, any application for protection needs to come from them. That doesn't mean you can't do anything as a park user, however. If you know who owns a piece of land you could speak to them and ask if they have considered Fields in Trust protection. Generally, parks and green spaces are owned by local authorities or town or parish councils. You could also speak to your local Councillor or MP about protection and ask them to advocate it for your local green spaces.
Whenever you are speaking to a policymaker or decisionmaker about protection make sure you have armed yourself with the facts. Our Summer of Parks has discussed fourteen topics of importance to parks and green spaces, our Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research provides a robust economic valuation of parks and green spaces in the UK whilst our Green Space Index is our barometer of provision across the country. These resources will provide you with plenty of information to help support your case.
If you are meeting someone you wish to discuss protection with, print out and take along a copy of our Briefing Note [PDF] which will provide them an introduction and opportunities to learn more.
Alongside this article we also provide answers to a number of Frequently Asked Questions on protection in our Knowledge Base. Our soon-to-be-published Watch This Space document aims to help you to champion for and support your local park or green space and will include an easy to use guide to the planning system.
Please note, the information contained within this article is provided for general information only. It does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to be legally binding. Should you require legal advice we recommend seeking independent legal advice from a solicitor.
Summer of Parks: Join the discussion as we champion our parks and green spaces
Green Space Index: Our new barometer of publicly accessible green space provision
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