United Kingdom
Administrative, Evidence, Land Use, Wildlife, Licences, Prevention, Property, Damages, Standing, Criminal
The Oxford case related to a meadow of around 20 acres of open land adjacent to a hospital. The land had been used informally by locals for a period in excess of 20 years for various forms of recreation and there were two clearly identifiable informal paths crossing the meadow. In 1989 the landowner put up a pair of signs along the paths stating “No public right of way”. When the landowner sought to sell this land for development, an application was submitted by a local resident to register the land as a village green. The landowner sought to rely on the notices sited on the paths to defeat the application. Dismissing an appeal against a planning inspector's decision to uphold the defendant local authority's classification of an area as a new town or village green, the Administrative Court set out a number of principles which governed the approach to be taken to the issue of whether a notice rendered the use of particular land contentions. The court ruled that the effect of these notices was only to limit the use of the paths as a right of way, and not to limit the use of the area as a green. As such, the application to register the land as a town or village green was granted. Section 15 of the Commons Act 2006 provides that: any person may apply to the commons registration authority to register land to which this Part applies as a town or village green in a case where… a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years. It should be noted that the application for registration in this case was actually made under the predecessor provision to section 15 of the Commons Act 2006; that is section 22(1A) of the Commons Registration Act 1965. However, the following discussion will be relevant to the proper interpretation of the current provision given that the statutory wording is reproduced therein. The original statutory provision which facilitated the registration of new greens, section 22 of the Commons Registration Act 1965, and the court’s interpretation of its proper application. This provision only referred to the need for “the inhabitants of any locality” to have indulged in lawful sports and pastimes The judge in the present case went on to consider the amendment which replaced the old section 22 of the 1965 Act withe the new section 22(1A) (this amendment was introduced by section 98 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000). The material alterations to the original section 22 were to include a “neighbourhood” as an alternative to a “locality” and to alter the user requirement from “the inhabitants of any locality” to one requiring “a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality. Applicants seeking to have land registered as a new green can rely upon very limited areas (a single residential road, it seems) as a neighbourhood within a locality for the purposes of meeting the statutory test; what they cannot do is artificially construct a neighbourhood for the purposes of making an application. If a neighbourhood can be identified then it is enough that a significant number of inhabitants of that neighbourhood have made qualifying use of the application land. The fact that other people from outside the neighbourhood may also have used the land in a qualifying manner will not cause the application to fail because it is not necessary for the qualifying users to come predominantly from within the neighbourhood.