Appeal court upholds village green registrations in Lancashire and Surrey

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We are delighted that the Court of Appeal has upheld the registration of village greens at Moorside Fields in Lancaster and Leach Grove Wood at Leatherhead in Surrey.(1)

The two cases were heard together and the court has dismissed an appeal from Lancashire County Council which, as the education authority, owns the 13-hectare Moorside Fields. Our member, Janine Bebbington who acted for the Moorside Fields Community Group, had applied to register them as a green. The court also upheld an appeal from Timothy Jones, who had applied to register as a green 2.9 hectares at Leach Grove wood, which is owned by NHS Properties Ltd.

The question common to both cases was whether the fact that the land was held by a public body (ie Lancashire County Council and the NHS) for the performance of its statutory powers and duties made the land incapable of being registered as a town or village green, since registration requires local people to have used the land for informal recreation for 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission.

Giving the lead judgment, Lord Justice Lindblom ruled that there was no blanket exemption to prevent land held by public bodies from being registered as a green and that, in both the Lancaster and Leatherhead cases, the use for which the land was held did not conflict with the recreational use as a green. The judges also dismissed a further four grounds of appeal in the Lancaster case and one in the Leatherhead case.

Says Nicola Hodgson, one of our case officers: ‘This judgment is immensely encouraging because it will not only enable local people to continue to enjoy the land in question, but it will also give encouragement to those who wish to record their rights of recreation on land which is held by public bodies.

‘The judgment also includes a helpful discussion on the definition of “locality” and “neighbourhood within a locality” which are important to define in an application for a green: this will assist people who wish to make applications.’

Adds Janine Bebbington: ‘We are delighted with the Moorside Fields decision and that our beautiful land remains free for us to enjoy. We are very grateful to our legal team who have worked at a reduced rate to enable our community group to remain part of the legal process and to the Open Spaces Society not only for their financial support but for also being there to listen, and to offer encouragement and advice along the way.’

1 The case is (1) R (on the application of Lancashire County Council) and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Janine Bebbington; (2) R (on the application of NHS Property Services Ltd, Surrey County Council and Timothy Jones. The judgment can be found here. The judges were Lord Justice Lindblom, Lord Justice Rupert Jackson and Lady Justice Thirlwall. Please see links to this and other relevant court cases here.

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