High Court judge backs inspector over village green designation interpretation

A High Court judge has come down on the side of a planning inspector over his interpretation of the rules surrounding whether or not land should be designated as a village green.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

The battle over Humpty Hill at Faringdon in Oxfordshire moved to London’s High Court after the landowners challenged Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to register the meadow land as a village green.

Registration would effectively thwart plans to build a proposed 100 homes on the site.

The owners of the land, Charles Allaway and Rosemary Pollock, took the case to court, arguing among other things that a planning inspector whose recommendation that the land should be registered was legally wrong in the way he assessed public use of the land.

And they claimed that in those circumstances the council should not have acted on his recommendation.

However, Mrs Justice Patterson - in a decision which clarifies the criteria necessary for such registration - dismissed their challenge.

The level of use made of land by the public is a major consideration when it comes registering land as town or village greens under the provisions of the Commons Act 2006.

The law states that a "significant number of inhabitants" from the locality of the land must have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for at least 20 years.

In this case the QC for Allaway and Pollock claimed that the planning inspector had, in deciding whether the land had been used by a significant number of people, considered usage by the limited number of people from the immediate area round Humpty Hill was sufficient was sufficient to be classed as significant.

It was argued that majority of users came from within 200 yards of Humpty Hill but that the inspector in assessing usage should have examined the percentage of people from the whole of Great Faringdon, which has a population of 7,000, who used the land – not just those from the immediate neighbouring area.

However, the judge ruled that this was the wrong interpretation. She held that usage of land in such cases could be assessed on the basis of use made by residents from a smaller area close to the site and that the assessment did not have to be made on usage by people from a much wider area of the region concerned.

She said the act referred to "a significant number of inhabitants of any locality" and she could see no basis for this meaning that there had to be "a spread of users" from across the wider area.

"Provided the number of people using the land in question was sufficient to indicate that their use signified that it was in general use by the local community for informal recreation that was sufficient," she said.

R on the Application of Allaway & Anr v Oxfordshire County Council. Case Number: CO/811/2016

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