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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Supreme Court judgment overturns village green status of beach

Supreme Court judgment overturns village green status of beach


Ruling will support positive developments of land held by public or statutory bodies for statutory purposes

A Supreme Court judgment overturning the village green status of a beach within the Port of Newhaven has been described as a 'common sense approach' that will have implications for statutory bodies.

In December 2008, Newhaven Town Council applied to East Sussex County Council (ESCC) to register the beach as a town or village green on the basis that it had been used by a significant number of local inhabitants 'as of right' for a period of at least 20 years.

Having been registered by ESCC, the area could be used for public recreation and any interference with this by the port for its own purposes, including future development, would have constituted a criminal offence.

The issue raised on appeal was whether the County Council was wrong in law to decide to register the Beach as a village green under the Commons Act 2006.

Acting for Newhaven Port and Properties Limited, DMH Stallard successfully argued that the beach was wrongly registered as a village green by ESCC.

Head of planning at DMH Stallard, Heidi Copland, said: "The five Supreme Court justices unanimously upheld our appeal, agreeing that registration of the beach as a village green was incompatible with the statutory purposes for which the land within the port was held ie its use as a working harbour."

Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Sumption, Lord Carnwarth, and Lord Hodge also held that it was implicit from the byelaws in place that members of the public had permission to use the beach for recreational purposes, whether or not the public were aware of these byelaws. This meant that their 'use of right' claim failed.

Copland commented: "In the absence of this decision, parts of the English coastline, specifically those parts owned by ports, which play significant roles in economic growth and regeneration, were potentially constrained, such as to interfere with the ports ability to effectively run its undertaking.

"Most importantly, it represents a landmark ruling that will have implications for all public authorities and statutory undertakers who hold land for statutory purposes and will protect their rights to use and develop this land."

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD