Property Law uk

Maintained by Gary Webber

Inhabitants of locality


Retrospective legislation?

Leeds Group plc v Leeds City Council
[2011] EWCA Civ 1447


The judge had dismissed the claims by the appellant under s14 of the Commons Registration Act 1965 and for judicial review challenging the registration as a green of land known as Yeadon Banks, Yeadon on the outskirts of Leeds of which the appellant owns about 5 acres and the Council, the registration authority, owns the remainder. Having dismissed the appeal at the end of 2010 ([2010] EWCA Civ 1438 (see previous update) the Court of Appeal permitted the appellant to argue two further grounds of appeal dealing with whether or not the legislation should be construed in a way that was retrospectiveand whether or not it breached the land owner’s human rights under the First Protocol. Both arguments were however dismissed.

Statutory provisions

Section 13 of the 1965 Act provided for regulations to be made to allow the amendment of the registers where “any land becomes … a town or village green” and the regulations made are the Commons Registration (New Land) Regulations 1969. Section 14(b) of the 1965 Act provides that:
    “The High Court may order a register maintained under this Act to be amended if the register has been amended in pursuance of section 13 of this Act and it appears to the court that no amendment or a different amendment ought to have been made and that the error cannot be corrected in pursuance of regulations made under this Act; and the court deems it just to rectify the register”.
No regulations of the kind contemplated by s14(b) have been made.

The issue

In this case the amendment of the 1965 Act by the CROW Act 2000 was relevant so that the question was whether Yeadon Banks was:
    “... land on which for not less than twenty years a significant number of the inhabitants of any locality, or of any neighbourhood within a locality, have indulged in lawful sports and pastimes as of right”.
First new ground of appeal

The first was whether ss 98 and 103(2) of the CROW Act 2000, which provided for the amendment of s22(1) of the 1965 Act to permit claims for registration relying on qualifying user by inhabitants not only of a locality but of any neighbourhood within a locality, should be construed so as to postpone the operation of the amended definition of a green to 30 November 2020 (i.e. 20 years from the date of the passing of the 2000 Act) in any case in which the applicant for registration needed to rely on user which up to 29 January 2001 (i.e. the day before s98 came into force) would have been incapable of supporting such an application, i.e. user by inhabitants of a neighbourhood.

It was argued that it would be unfair to landowners who had permitted acts of user which were incapable of ripening into legal rights, i.e. recreation by inhabitants of a neighbourhood but not of a locality, for Parliament to recharacterise such ‘harmless’ acts of user as ‘harmful’ because they were deemed, as from 30 January 2001, to be capable of supporting an application to register the land as a green.

The second new ground of appeal

The second was a human rights point that a retrospective interpretation of s98 would breach its right to peaceful enjoyment of its land at Yeadon Banks contrary to Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.


The Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal on both further grounds.

As to the first, landowners generally had been on notice since the decision of the House of Lords on 24 June 1999 in the Sunningwell case ([2000] 1 AC 335) that those using their land for recreational purposes may well be asserting a public right to do so and the well advised landowner who had been prepared to allow neighbourhood-based user, whereas he would not have allowed locality-based user, will have had 2 months between enactment on 30 November 2000 and commencement on 30 January 2001 to take very simple steps such as locking gates or erecting appropriately worded signs in order to thwart any application since user must continue up until the date of the application.

As to the second ground, the possibility of neighbourhood-based claims was introduced by the 2000 Act in such a way that the balance of competing interests between the State and landowners was fairly struck in particular having regard to the 2 months period within which landowners could take simple and decisive action to protect their interests.

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