High Court mulls village green beach wrangle

A High Court judge in London is being asked to decide whether a Newhaven beach can lawfully be registered as a village green, giving the local public the right to use it once more.

Newhaven Bay
Newhaven Bay

In December 2010, East Sussex County Council allowed an application to register West Beach, Newhaven, as a "town or village green", on the basis that the locals of Newhaven parish had used it as of right for sports and pastimes for a 20 year period before it was fenced off for safety reasons in 2006.

But now beach-owner Newhaven Ports and Properties Ltd, which closed the beach fearing that, in its current state, the sea wall poses a danger to anyone on it, is now asking High Court judge Mr Justice Duncan Ouseley to quash the registration.

If upheld by the judge, the registration gives locals the right to use the beach – which covers 6 hectares when the tide is fully out.

But the beach-owner is asking the judge to rule that a tidal beach cannot properly be registered as a town or village green under the 2006 Commons Act.

Its counsel, Charles George QC, told the judge that to find that a tidal beach could be registered in this way is "absurd" and cannot have been intended by Parliament.

He said that, if upheld, it would make all tidal beaches around the coast of England and Wales potentially registrable as town or village greens. The fact that such registration is not commonplace, he said, demonstrated how it is a novel proposition that is not correct in law.

Alternatively, he argued that, even if some tidal beaches could be registrable, this one – which is entirely covered by the sea for 42 per cent of the time, partially covered for the majority of the time, and only completely uncovered for a very short time – should not be. He claimed that the council’s decision was "unreasonable".

He argued that swimming was not a "lawful sport or pastime" for the purposes of the town and village green legislation, and that the constantly changing tide meant that the beach had no fixed boundary. Also, he claimed, use of the beach was regulated by byelaws for public safety, and so locals did not use it "as of right", as required by the 2006 Act.

The hearing is scheduled to last three days, after which the judge is expected to reserve his decision in order to give it in writing.

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