The term ‘village green’ may conjure up to most people an image of a picturesque piece of open grass. However, the Court of Appeal has ruled in an important test case that a beach can be regarded as a village green in the eyes of the law, even though there is not a blade of grass in sight. The ruling opens the way for West Beach, at Newhaven, East Sussex, to be registered as a village green and thus protected from development.
East Sussex County Council had granted the beach village green status but its decision to do so was subsequently overturned by the High Court. In allowing the Council’s appeal against that decision, the Court of Appeal ruled that, although the beach had no fixed boundary, due to the effects of the tide, it was capable of being registered as a town or village green under the Commons Act 2006. The Court rejected arguments put forward by Newhaven Port and Properties Limited (NPP), which had objected to the registration, that ‘precarious’ public use of the foreshore could not be ‘as of right’ as it was regulated by bye-laws and was impliedly by permission of the Crown or its successors in title. Uncertainty over the extent of public rights of access to the beach was not a bar on registration, the Court ruled.
NPP’s argument that the registration of the beach as a village green amounted to an unwarranted interference with its statutory powers and duties in respect of its management of the port of Newhaven – the sole ground on which the company had succeeded initially – was rejected as unsustainable.