The term ‘common land’ is often misunderstood. Common land is in private rather than public ownership, and the rights of access differ depending on individual circumstances, many of which refer to largely out-dated concepts such as grazing rights.
The only general public ‘right’ to access is where it is an urban common or is crossed by a public footpath. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 increased access to common land (referred to as ‘access land’ in the Act) and gave people more extensive rights in relation to common land.
For most people, the issue of common land arises when they are seeking to purchase a plot of land or extend their property. In both circumstances, they may be required to determine whether the land they are acquiring or extending over has any access rights. For further information relating to this area, the Natural England website contains a comprehensive guide to village greens, common land, rights and access.
Details of all areas designated as common land or village greens are held by commons registration authorities, and within Essex this is the County Council. We maintain the registers of common land and village greens, which are statutory documents. Each unit of common land or village green is given a unique registry number, which enables us to identify it within the register. The register lists information about each unit in three parts:
- Part 1: The Land section – Describes the land and its boundaries, details the date it became common land or a village green and who applied to register it.
- Part 2: The Rights section – Details who has common rights over the land and what those rights are. For example, the right to graze sheep or cattle, or the right to remove gravel and stone.
- Part 3: The Ownership section – Details who owns the land (if registered).
Essex County Council can provide a copy of the register for a particular village green or common land unit for a fee of £10. However, we require the unit number in order to process the request.
If the unit number is not known, you should contact your local borough or district council and ask for their local search section to find out how to make an appropriate search. They will advise you on the forms and the fees required. A search will identify if a specified plot of land is part of or adjacent to one of the registered units.
Should you wish to inspect the register in person, this can be done by appointment. No fee is charged for a personal inspection, and these can be carried out between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday. Making a copy of the register incurs a charge of £10.
For information about protecting common land, town and village greens and public rights of way, the Open Spaces Society is a charity that may be of use. There is an annual membership fee, but the charity exists to protect open spaces and is a recognised authority on the subject.
Should you require any further information about common land or village greens, we recommend visiting the Natural England website.
Application Fees under the Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2014
For more information, see the document about amending rights over common land or call 0333 013 6683.
Further information on the services offered by Essex County Council and the Common Land and Village Green registers can be obtained directly by contacting the Environmental Law and Property Team in Essex Legal Services:
Essex Legal Services
Victoria Road South