Community Open Space Adverse Possession Claim

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    Community Open Space Adverse Possession Claim

    I am a member of a community group which for the past twenty years has been maintaining a small area of open space next to the River Thames. I have checked with the Land Registry and found that roughly one half is registered and is owned by the local council, whilst the other half is unregistered.
    We want to apply to the Land Registry for adverse possession of this open space. These are some of the most relevant issues.
    1. The local council has never maintained its area. For instance, there is a covenant going back to the 1920s that a good fence should be maintained. The area has been open space since at least the 1980s. There is a standard fee of £130.00 for an application to the LR for a claim of squatters' rights on registered land. The minimum period of relevant user of registered land is 12 years.
    2. There is a fee of £40.00 for unregistered land up to the value of £100,000. The minimum period is 10 years.
    3. The application must be made by an individual or individuals, who each must sign a Statement of Truth. This does not have to be witnessed by a lawyer, or notary.

    The question is whether multiple individuals who are members of the local community, can be squatters for the purposes of a claim of adverse possession, where the aim is not to live on the land or property, but only to enjoy it as a local open space from time to time, in common with numerous others. The idea is not to deprive others of the enjoyment of the space, but to lead the way in a sense, in setting an example, such a litter picking etc. This area is much frequented by many individuals, not just locals, but boat owners who moor up and use it for picnics. The council seems to have just let the place go, so various community minded individuals have taken it on as an ongoing project.

    There I believe is a new designation of local open space which can be claimed in respect of local area plans. This is distinct from new town or village greens, which is a very complex subject.

    I would welcome any feedback from members of the forum who have any ideas about adverse possession in this context.

    There has been no evidence of adverse possesion of the land you have described, so it would be pointless to consider making any such an application to Land Registry to be registered as the current owner and occupier.

    There needed to have been exclusive possession of the land with the intention to possess for 12 years over the unregistered land and for 10 years over the registered land.
    In that latter case Land Registry would notify the registered owner to allow that owner to object to any such application, so that the owner would have a further 2 years to seek repossession through the courts to reclaim their land.

    Is there a properly constituted community group that could approach the council seeking a licence or lease to occupy the part owned by the council, or is there just a few people who consider themselves the community group through a loose understanding of what they would like to achieve?

    You stated that the Village Green procedure is complex, but that does seem your best chance of having some rights over the whole area of land being described.
    If the area is not designated for development in the Local Development Framework you stand a good chance of having it declared a village green if you can provide evidence of 20 years use for informal recreation for over 20 years as of right. i.e. without permission, without force and openly used by people.

    You will have no chance of becoming the owner under a claim of adverse possession.


      Thanks for taking the time to advise on this Pilman. Our local group is part of GLOBE (Go Local On a Better Environment) so it is recognised and was part-funded by the local council. I had thought that there might be an arguable case that members of the group had dispossessed the neighbouring local authority (the land is just over the boundary) of the land by changing its use from formerly designated development land, to community open space (the planning consent expired over twenty years ago). However, the Land Registry guidelines require individuals to make the statement of truth. But could members of a community group not be squatters on behalf of their community?


        But could members of a community group not be squatters on behalf of their community?
        That use by a multitude of different people, including boat owners who stop and picnic on the land, will never meet the legal definition of adverse possession, although it could be more likely to fulfill the requirements for a claim that this is now a village green.

        Has anyone approached the council owner to seek a formal licence or right to use the land and keep it tidy.
        That would be a sensible option to pursue for the registered land.
        As for the unregistered land does anyone have any idea of who the owner could be.

        Unregistered land is only land that has not been the subject of any dealings since compulsory registration was imposed on that area of the country. There will always be a legal owner, although it is difficult to know how to contact that person, as private deeds are not available for public scrutiny, unlike the registered title registers.

        Has there been any enquiries made locally?


          Thanks again for helping to think this through. I have made inquiries with Network Rail, various historical and statutory bodies and both councils over the past year. The unregistered land is the curtilage around a horse bridge on the towpath, built in 1891, and attached to one of Brunel's older railway bridges. No authority now accepts responsibility for or knows who owned the land on which the horse bridge was built over. The registered land is immediately adjacent to the bridge curtilage. Having read through the LR practice guides I can see that I have been looking for a very obscure loophole which probably doesn't exist. You knew this already. Anyhow, it would probably be too expensive and complicated re the village green route, due to new development related limitations imposed in 2013, so I am looking at the potential for new designation of local green space (LGS) as introduced by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in March 2012. We could apply to have the registered and unregistered land recognised as LGS in the context of the local or neighbourhood plan. If successful this would rule out development, other than in limited circumstances, apparently. However, so far I cannot find online record of any LGS under local or neighbourhood plans. The two local councils are putting forward a new plan to demolish the historic horse bridge, to build a new road along the Thames, with a park and ride in the floodplain, which is contrary to all commonsense after the flooding earlier this year. We need to rally the local community around an achievable campaign, which is based on good legal thinking.


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