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March 22 2012

The Open Spaces Society,  the national organisation campaigning for the protection of greens, is dismayed by the High Court judgment that West Beach at Newhaven in East Sussex is not a village green.(2) Yesterday (21 March) Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that the land did not qualify as a green because its use by local people for informal recreation was incompatible with its statutory use as a port by the owner, Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd.

Newhaven Town Council applied to East Sussex County Council for the 15 acres to be registered as a green when the owner erected fences and closed off the beach to the public in 2008. The town council submitted evidence from local residents proving that they had used the land for recreation-fishing, walking, riding bikes, playing cricket-without permission or being stopped, for more than 20 years. The council, after holding a public inquiry, agreed to register the green but the port authority challenged the decision in the High Court.

Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society which advised its member Newhaven Town Council: 'We are dismayed that this case appears to have been lost on a technicality. It was held that because the port authority had statutory authority to run a port here, this conflicts in law with the use of the land as a green. But there is no such conflict in practice, people have enjoyed this land for decades-and continue to do so despite the fencing which was erected to keep them out.

'There have been other judgments, in higher courts, which held that use for informal recreation can coexist with other formal and commercial activities, such as playing golf, and it is a question of give and take. We sincerely hope that East Sussex County Council will appeal against the Newhaven judgment so that we can clarify this piece of law.

'However, it is encouraging that the judge ruled that a tidal beach can be registered as a green. Indeed, last year, Herbrand Walk Beach at Bexhill-on-Sea was registered and there must be many more beaches which qualify.

'The Open Spaces Society is deeply concerned that the government is considering changes to the law to make it more difficult to register land as greens. It is evident from the Newhaven case, and from other cases currently in the courts, that the law on greens is still being established and clarified, and we would strongly oppose any move to weaken the law in favour of developers.

'Meanwhile, we shall continue to advise Newhaven Town Council in this case, and we urge the port authority to reopen the beach for public enjoyment, since there is no conflict between the various uses of the land,' Kate concludes.