First victory in battle to restore St Catherine’s Hill common

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We have won the first round in the battle to restore parts of St Catherine’s Hill Common lost to illegal privatisation.

We welcomed the decision by the Planning Inspectorate to reject an application from Guildford Borough Council, the owner of St Catherine’s Hill Common south of Guildford in Surrey, to plant a hollybush screen, three to four metres long, on the common. The Planning Inspectorate was determining the application for works on common land under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.

The hedge was to be along the outer edge of the rear garden of number 3 St Catherine’s Hill, to screen the garden from the track which runs alongside. The public has the right to walk and ride over the whole common.

We objected to the hedge on common land because it will facilitate the unlawful annexation of the common. An area of land on the north side of the common has now been incorporated into private gardens, and legal access by walkers and horse-riders is denied.

The inspector for the Planning Inspectorate, Gina Warman, noted in her report that ‘the rear garden to No 3 St Catherine’s Hill (No 3), and the access track to the rear of it, form part of the registered common. The boundary between the garden and the track is marked by snowberry bushes [which the council wishes to replace with a hollybush screen] … the owners of the cottage at No 3 do not own the land to the rear of the building on which the holly screen is proposed but appear to regard it as if it were a private garden’.

She confirmed that public rights of access exist to the rear gardens because they are part of the common, and she concluded that ‘the works are for purely private benefit and will adversely affect public rights of access, and that consent should be refused’.

Says our general secretary Kate Ashbrook: ‘This is an excellent decision. The inspector has confirmed the supremacy of the public interest in common land. We shall now press the borough council, as landowner, to take action either to restore this land to the common or to provide suitable land in exchange for that which has been filched from the common—so that the land is restored for walkers and riders to enjoy.’

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