‘Monumental’ Supreme Court judgment for new greens

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We are delighted at today’s unanimous judgment from the Supreme Court(1) which orders Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to register Coatham Common(2) as a village green.(3)  The society backed local inhabitants in their bid to register the land.

In order for land to be registered as a green, local people need to show that a significant number of them have used the land ‘as of right’, ie freely, for informal recreation for at least 20 years.  In 2005 and again in 2007, Mr Kevin Lewis and four other residents applied to register land at Coatham Common, which until 2002 was used as a golf course, as a green.  They produced evidence that they had used the land for recreation for 20 years, without being stopped and without asking permission. 

The application was rejected by the registration authority, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, and Mr Lewis’s appeals to both the High Court (2008) and Court of Appeal (2009) were rejected.

The principal ground for rejection by all three authorities was that, in using the land for informal recreation, local people had given way to the golfers, so their use had not been ‘as of right’.  The five Supreme Court judges were of a different view, and THEY have allowed the appeal.

Giving the leading judgment, Lord Walker said: ‘I have great difficulty in seeing how a reasonable owner would have concluded that the residents were not asserting a right to take recreation on the disputed land, simply because they normally showed civility towards members of the golf club who were out playing golf.  It is not as if the residents took to their heels and vacated the land whenever they saw a golfer.  They simply acted…with courtesy and common sense [paragraph 36].’

Both Lords Walker and Rodger observed that registration of land as a green would be unlikely to result in a change in its use by local inhabitants (paragraphs 47 and 84).

Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘This monumental decision clarifies the law on registering land as new greens.  The Supreme Court has said beyond all doubt that use of land as a green can coexist with the landowner’s activities.

‘In the past, applications have been rejected merely because the local people were civil and deferred to the use by the landowner—whether he was making hay or playing golf.  We considered it unfair that people should be penalised for being polite, but it was proving a major problem for people wishing to record their recreational rights by registering land as a green.’

1. R (on the application of Lewis) (Appellant) v Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council and another (Respondents) [2010] UKSC 11.  See press summary at http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/docs/UKSC_2009_0167_ps.pdf

2. Coatham Common is on the north side of Redcar adjoining the beach on the North Sea coast.  Until 2002 it was used as a golf course.  The area to be registered is roughly 350 yards by 150 yards.

3. Land can be registered as a town or village green if it has been used by local people for ‘lawful sports and pastimes’ (ie informal recreation) for 20 years, freely and openly.  Once registered, the land is protected from encroachment and development by section 12 of the Inclosure Act 1857 and section 29 of the Commons Act 1876.  Local people have a right to enjoy the land for recreation.

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