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Greenfields Community Group

Supreme Court rules 100-year-old statutory trust gives Shrewsbury people rights over public recreation land despite sale by council for housing

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a resident who claimed a statutory trust created in 1926 gives residents rights of recreation over a piece of land even after Shrewsbury Town Council sold it to a developer.

Posted on 01 March 2023

Supreme Court Justices agreed with Dr Peter Day that Shrewsbury people’s rights over the land at Greenfields Recreation Ground were not extinguished by the sale of land and should have been considered by Shropshire Council before they granted planning permission for a housing development. As a result of the judgment, planning permission has now been quashed.
The ruling is of major importance to local authorities and their approach to selling off land that has been protected by means of a statutory trust.
The Shrewsbury land was part of a plot secured for public recreation by a statutory trust in 1926 but Shrewsbury Town Council sold the land to a developer in 2017 without advertising or consulting with the public, which they were required to do. Following the sale, in 2018 Shropshire Council gave planning permission for 15 houses to be built by CSE Developments Ltd.
Dr Day issued a legal challenge which was rejected by the High Court and Court of Appeal, although the High Court found that the county council had failed to take reasonable steps to find out whether the site was part of the recreation ground before it granted planning permission for houses. Dr Day then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled that:
  • Section 128(2)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972  is not designed to free land from public trusts when that land is sold and should not be read as having accidentally done so.
  • The public recreation rights over the recreation ground were material considerations that needed to be taken into account when it came to giving planning permission for housing development. 
Ahead of today’s ruling, and in response to an independent report, Shrewsbury Town Council apologised and pledged to return the land to public use but it has been waiting for today’s judgment before it commits to further action.
Dr Day says he expects Shrewsbury Town Council to be true to its word and restore the land to be a fully functioning part of Greenfields Recreation Ground.
Dr Day is represented by Leigh Day solicitor Stephanie Hill, who instructed Alex Goodman and Kimberley Ziya of Landmark Chambers.
Dr Peter Day said:
“I and the people of Shrewsbury feel completely vindicated by today’s ruling. This saga should never have dragged on for so long and would never have happened if Shrewsbury Town Council had kept proper records of public land and the statutory trust which granted the people of Shrewsbury rights over the land 100 years ago.
“The people of Shrewsbury should have been properly consulted about the selling off of land that had been given to us to use for recreation in 1926. Simply to say that because neither the council nor the developer knew about the statutory trust is not a good enough reason to be able to sell the land from under us and then to allow plans for development to continue. Thankfully the Supreme Court agreed with us on that.
“This clarification of the planning law applying to the sale and development of public land is a warning to local authorities and a victory for community groups across the country.”
Leigh Day solicitor Stephanie Hill said:
“My client and the Greenfields community have been fighting for years to save this land from development, and I am delighted that, as a result of this legal case, the grant of planning permission has now been quashed.
“This judgment recognises how important it is for local authorities to consider the recreation rights of local communities when considering the sale or development of land and will be hugely significant for our client and other local community groups who wish to protect their right to open spaces.”

The appeal to the Supreme Court is supported by Good Law Project who helped to crowdfund to help with legal costs.
Hannah Greer, campaigns manager for Good Law Project, said:
“Recreational spaces are so important for our quality of life, and that was especially highlighted during the pandemic. It’s simply not right for these spaces to be sold off without any consultation with those who use them. We hope this will set a new precedent in how local authorities manage and maintain public spaces in the future."
Stephanie Hill
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Stephanie Hill

Stephanie Hill is a partner in the human rights department at Leigh Day.

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