The recent Supreme Court judgment in TW Logistics v Essex County Council clarified the law on the rights of landowners following the registration of land as a town or village green (TVG).
The land in question was a commercially operated quayside in Mistley, Essex, used for activities such as logistics and cargo storage, but also, crucially, by members of the public for recreation. In response to a 2010 application made in reliance of that public use, and following a public inquiry in 2013, Essex County Council (the TVG registration authority) registered the land as a TVG in 2014.
Land that is registered as TVG is protected. Disturbing or interfering with a TVG is an offence. The landowner was therefore concerned that TVG registration would criminalise its commercial operations. It challenged the registration and that eventually ended up before the Supreme Court.
The court confirmed that registration of a TVG does not criminalise the continuation of the landowner’s pre-existing activities after the registration. The landowner may continue to undertake activities of the same general quality and at the same general level as before, or may indeed intensify its use or undertake new and different activities provided they do not interfere with the rights of the public to use the land for lawful sports and pastimes.
While this helps TW Logistics – which is aware of the nature and level of its pre-registration use – it does not help either its successors or indeed the next generation, who will be increasingly less familiar with the pre-registration use and crucially whether the use has changed from that of their forbears or predecessors as to amount to a criminal offence.
This case just goes to confirm that from a landowner’s perspective, when it comes to TVG registrations, prevention is better than cure.
Fergus Charlton is legal director at TLT