Sunday, 4 November 2012

Village Greens

I am no good at cricket. I didn’t play at school and since then have only donned whites a few times with friends, mainly as an excuse to lounge on the boundary and eat cake. But TV is a harsh task-mistress and when she calls you up to the wicket there can be no skulking behind the pavilion. So today I swung a bat and the world (well the bit that matters ie the CountryFile audience) will witness my ineptitude. I was at least inspired by my surroundings: Great Massingham village green. The kind of communal turf shared by mallards and Morris-men, ringed by flint walled cottages, that encourages grown men to unleash their inner poet.

Official Town and Village Green status makes a space almost hallowed ground and any development rightly impossible. But village greens are not just historic, last year there were 103 new applications seeking this ultimate preservation order and some of them are a bit fishy. Lakes, beaches and fields of crops are all under consideration and there’s a growing suspicion that the claim is being used as a kneejerk block to development: the NIMBY’s weapon of choice. The government shares this belief and is about to tighten up the law – exactly how should be revealed when we meet Owen Patterson, the relatively fresh Secretary of State for Environment.

Village Greens emerged in the Medieval times for communal grazing, often complete with a pond so the animals could get a drink. Though they’ve probably long given space for occasional fun and games, their importance at the heart of many villages seems to have been entrenched in the Victorian era when industrialisation and overcrowding resulted in rural idylls being both romanticised and cherished.

The starting point for declaring new town or village greens is unchallenged access to an area for at least 20 years. That was claimed for a field where we started the day but all I could see was thirty acres of stubble where this year’s crop of wheat once stood and not a soul came wandering by.

But I can see the point of designating new areas for random recreation. Public health bodies talk of `vitamin G` - where the G stands for green - and the provable fact that access to vegetated space improves mental and physical wellbeing. Back on Great Massingham’s green the after-school kids were definitely getting their outdoor fix. I joined them for a few rounds of sponge Frisbee: now that is my kind of game.

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