Judgement Day looms in village green legal battle

Helredale Playing Fields'w121105b'Archive picture
Helredale Playing Fields'w121105b'Archive picture

A group of Whitby residents, who have fought a long battle through the courts to protect a local playing field from development by having it protected as a “village green”, will learn the final outcome of their efforts next week.

The highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, will rule next Wednesday on the crucial but complex point at the heart of the case - whether locals have been enjoying use of the Helredale playing field at Helredale Road, Whitby, over a 20 year period “by right” or “as of right” in the eyes of the law.

In October 2012, the Court of Appeal backed earlier decisions siding with North Yorkshire County Council and the landowner, in what leading land law judge, Lord Justice Sullivan, admitted might be dismissed by non-lawyers as a “semantic quibble”.

Now that quibble is taxing five of the country’s finest legal minds as they prepare to give their judgment at London’s Supreme Court.

Locals hope the Law Lords will hand them a dramatic victory following their series of defeats before the Council, a planning inspector, a High Court judge and the three judges at the Court of Appeal.

Had the courts found local residents used the land “as of right” - without express permission - for 20 years, it would have paved the way for them to have it registered as a town green.

But the courts took the view that they used it “by right” under an express statutory power allowing its use as a recreation ground

Lord Justice Sullivan said this meant the current legal rights of the residents to use the land had always been open to one day being revoked.

The field was originally acquired by Scarborough Borough Council’s predecessor, Whitby Urban District Council, in 1951 and laid out and maintained as a recreation ground under provisions of the Housing Act 1936 aimed at providing accommodation for the working classes. For at least 20 years it was maintained as a recreation ground by Scarborough Borough Council.