Environment, Highways and Leisure

May 21st, 2014 by James Goudie KC

The Supreme Court has given Judgment in Barkas v North Yorkshire County Council [2014] UKSC 31, dismissing Ms Barkas’ appeal from [2012] EWCA Civ 1373 and against the rejection of her application to register land as a town or village green under Section 15 of the Commons Act 2006.  The land was provided and maintained by a local authority as “recreation grounds” under what is now Section 12(1) of the Housing Act 1985.  The Supreme Court ruled that, so long as land is held under such a provision, members of the public have a statutory right to use the land for recreational purposes, and therefore use the land “by right” rather than “as of right”, within the meaning of Section 15(2)(a) of the 2006 Act.  The Supreme Court observed that where the owner of the land is a local, or other public, authority which has lawfully allocated the land for public use, it is impossible to see how, at least in the absence of unusual additional facts, it could be appropriate to infer that members of the public have been using the land “as of right” simply because the authority has not objected to their using the land. It seems very unlikely that, in such a case, the legislature could have intended that such land would become a village green after the public had used it for twenty years. It would not merely be understandable why the local authority had not objected to the public use: it would be positively inconsistent with their decision to allocate the land for public use if they had done so. The position is very different from that of a private owner, with no legal duty and no statutory power to allocate land for public use, with no ability to allocate land as a village green, and who would be expected to protect his or her legal rights.  This means that the decision in Beresford v Sunderland City Council [2004] 1 AC 889, in which the House of Lords held that the public’s use for more than 20 years of land maintained by the local authority with that authority’s knowledge was “as of right”, should no longer be relied on. It is clear on the facts in that case that the city council and its predecessors had lawfully allocated the land for the purpose of public recreation for an indefinite period, and that, in those circumstances, there was no basis upon which it could be said that the public use of the land was “as of right” rather than by right.

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