Apart from the general use of the term, Village Green has a specific legal meaning in England and Wales, and also includes the less common term Town Greens. Town and village greens were defined in the Commons Registration Act 1965, as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, as land:
- which has been allotted by or under any Act for the exercise or recreation of the inhabitants of any locality
- or on which the inhabitants of any locality have a customary right to indulge in lawful sports and pastimes
- or if it is land on which for not less than twenty years a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged in lawful sports and pastimes as of right.
These Acts have now been repealed and replaced by the Commons Act 2006, but the fundamental test of whether land is a town and village green remains the same.
Thus land can become a village green if it has been used for 20 years without force, secrecy or request (nec vi, nec clam, nec precario).
Village green legislation is often used to try to frustrate development. Recent case law (Oxfordshire County Council vs Oxford City Council and Robinson) makes it clear that registration as a green would render any development which prevented continuing use of the green as a criminal activity under the 1857 Inclosure Act and/or the 1867 Commons Act.