Town and Village Greens

February 6th, 2014 by James Goudie KC

What is the effect of lapse of time on an application under Section 14 of the Commons Registration Act 1965 for rectification of a registration as a town or village green?  This was the issue before the Supreme Court in Adamson v Padico (267) Limited and Taylor v Betterment Properties (Weymouth) Limited, (2014) UKSC 7, on appeal from [2012] EWCA Civ 250 and 262, in which Judgment was given on 5 February 2014.  The Supreme Court observed as follows.

The starting point is the 1965 Act itself, which lays down no limitation period for Section 14 applications. Section 14 has no bias either for or against rectification. The principles of good administration require not only a conclusive register but also that the register is accurate and has been lawfully compiled. The focus is primarily on justice as between the applicant and the local inhabitants.  Where the applicant is the owner of the land, his rights have been severely curtailed when they should not have been and the inhabitants have acquired rights which they should not have. The lapse of time is not however immaterial. The best analogy is with the doctrine of laches which generally requires (a) knowledge of the facts, and (b) acquiescence, or (c) detriment or prejudice, if it is to bar the remedy.

Knowledge of the facts is unlikely to be a problem as landowners have an opportunity to object to the registration before it is made and subsequent purchasers are able to consult the register before deciding to buy. The fact that a purchaser bought the land with notice of the registration is unlikely to make much difference as he still suffers harm from the curtailment of his rights harm from the curtailment of his rights.   The crux of the matter is usually the question of detriment or prejudice, of which there are at least four relevant kinds: (i) detriment to the local inhabitants, although this may not be weighty given that this is a right they should never have had; (ii) detriment to other individuals who may have made decisions to purchase property near the land based on the register; (iii) detriment to public authorities and those they serve in, for example, the allocation of land for residential development; and (iv) detriment to the fair hearing of the case after the lapse of time. Even after a long delay there must be some material from which to infer that public or private decisions have been taken on the basis of the existing register which have operated to the respondent’s significant detriment.

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