The Supreme Court has held that the local residents of Coatham have not lost their right to register land as a village green which has been used for local informal recreation (walking, picnics, etc) and as a private golf course for over 80 years. The land in question forms an important part of the development site known as the Coatham Links coastal regeneration project – a 14 hectares mixed development site for residential and leisure.
Redcar and Cleveland BC had argued that use could not be ‘as of right’ for the purposes of section 15 of the Commons Act 2006 if local inhabitants were seen to have deferred to the primary use of the land for the purposes of golf. Lord Walker, delivering the unanimous judgment, did not accept that walkers waiting until play had passed or until they were waived through by golfers was inconsistent with the phrase “as of right”; the right had not been lost:
‘..simply because people normally showed civility – or in the inspector’s words, deference – to members of the golf club……It is not as if the residents took to their heels and vacated the land whenever they saw a golfer…They simply acted with courtesy and common sense.’
Speaking about the case Kate Ashbrook General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society (which helps members register village greens):
‘This monumental decision clarifies the law on registering land as new greens. The Supreme Court has said beyond all doubt that use of land as a green can coexist with the landowner’s activities. In the past, applications have been rejected merely because the local people were civil and deferred to the use by the landowner-whether he was making hay or playing golf. We considered it unfair that people should be penalised for being polite, but it was proving a major problem for people wishing to record their recreational rights by registering land as a green.’