Meeting documents

Planning & Regulation Committee
Monday, 13 January 2003


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13 JANUARY 2003


Report by Solicitor to the Council



  1. In June last year, an application to register a Town Green at the Trap Grounds in North Oxford was received. The County Council are the Registration Authority appointed under the Commons Registration Act 1965 to register Commons and Town or Village Greens. This application was submitted formally in pursuance of the Act and now has to be determined by them.
  2. The application was considered by an Inspector appointed to hold an independent Inquiry. The results of the Inquiry are set out in this report and the appropriate recommendation follows.
  3. A copy of the Inspector’s findings conclusion and recommendation is appended at Annex 1. A copy of his full Report can be seen in the Members Resource Centre. The main points which the Inspector raises are summarised below.
  4. The Trap Grounds

  5. The site of the Trap Grounds is a nine acre undeveloped plot of land in North Oxford about a mile from the centre of the City. As can be seen from the attached plan, the Trap Grounds lie between the railway and the canal. About one-third of the Trap Grounds is permanently underwater and consists of reed beds with open water and trees. This part of the Trap Grounds is usually called "the reed beds". The other two-thirds of the Trap Grounds, which lie on the western side between the stream and the railway, are much drier and consist of some mature trees and a great deal of high, scrubby undergrowth. This area of the Trap Grounds is usually called "the scrubland". It is noticeably less overgrown at the southern end and there is a pond and wet areas in the central eastern part around dry parts which are mostly covered in moss and undergrowth.
  6. The Trap Grounds are approached from the east by a bridge from Frenchay Road over the canal. From the bridge a track known as Frog Lane leads along the northern edge of the reed beds and gives access to a circular path around the scrubland.
  7. The southern boundary of the Trap Grounds consists of the fence dividing them from a new residential estate and a school which is under construction. The western boundary is the railway. The northern boundary is formed by a ditch and the eastern boundary is the canal towpath.
  8. The Town Green Application

  9. On 21 June 2002, Ms Catherine Robinson applied to the County Council under Section 13 of the Commons Registration Act 1965 to register the Trap Grounds as a Town Green since by her assertion, they had become eligible to be registered as such a Green on 1 August 1990. She alleged that (a) local residents had used them for lawful sports and pastimes as of right (without obstruction, permission, stealth or force) for an unbroken period of twenty years and (b) they continue to do so until the present day.
  10. The County Council duly publicised the application and invited objections. These were received from Oxford City Council, as owner of the Trap Grounds and others.
  11. The County Council appointed very experienced Counsel – Vivian Chapman – as an Inspector to hold a non-statutory Public Inquiry into the application and to report in writing with a recommendation as to whether the County Council should accede to the application.
  12. A Public Inquiry was held in Jericho’s St Barnabas Community Centre on 6, 7 and 8 November. The applicant appeared in person, called numerous witnesses and produced numerous written statements from local people. She also relied upon written legal submissions prepared by a firm of solicitors in Birmingham. The sole objector to appear at the Public Inquiry was Oxford City Council, represented by Counsel. No witnesses were called, and a site visit was held by the Inspector.
  13. Amendment of Application

  14. Before the Public Inquiry began, the applicant notified the County Council that she wished to amend her application. She wished to omit:
    1. the reed beds,
    2. the section of Frog Lane from the north of the reed beds, and
    3. a ten metre strip along the western boundary of the scrubland.

    In discussion at the Public Inquiry, the applicant decided to limit her amendment to the omission from her original application of (a) and (c).

  15. In relation to the reed beds, the applicant explained that she accepted that the physical condition of the reed beds meant she could not prove recreational user adequately. In relation to the ten metre strip, she explained that she had come to an informal understanding with the Education and Highways Departments of the County Council that she would withdraw her application in order to enable a new road to be constructed to provide access to the new school which is being built to the south of the application land.
  16. In view of the Inspector, the applicant has no absolute right to amend or withdraw an application. He feels that the Registration Authority must have a power to insist on determining a duly made application so that the status of the land is clarified in the public interest.
  17. In the present case, Oxford City Council as landowner has made it clear that it does wish to have the status of the Trap Grounds as a whole determined. Therefore his advice to the County Council as Registration Authority is (a) that the applicant does not have power to insist on amending her application, (b) that the County Council has power to allow an amendment where it is reasonable to do so, (c) that in the present case it would be unreasonable to allow the proposed amendment because the City Council as landowner wishes to have the status of its land determined and (d) that the County Council should determine the original application as a whole.
  18. Therefore, the Inspector recommends that the application in its original form should be considered and his recommendation follows accordingly.
  19. Findings of Fact

  20. In summary, the Inspector found that the Trap Grounds have at all material times over the twenty years before the application been open and unenclosed so that pedestrian entry by local people has been unimpeded. There has not been any sign on or near the Trap Grounds to discourage entry by local people. The City Council have never taken any steps to prevent or deter entry to the grounds or to remove local people from them. No one has asked for or been given permission to enter them.
  21. The reed beds have not been used to any material extent for recreation. They are generally inaccessible and are largely under water all year round. Certainly, the scrubland has been used throughout the twenty year period to a material extent for informal recreation by local people. Although the character of the scrubland has changed over the twenty year period, there has always been beaten tracks across it and the recreational users of it appear to come from the local area which lies within the Parish of St Margaret’s. Frog Lane has principally been used during the relevant twenty year period as a means of access and egress to and from the scrubland and it has therefore been more of a right of way than a Town Green.
  22. The Determination of the Application

  23. In summary, the Inspector has found that the Trap Grounds are "land" as defined by the Act, even though parts of them are under water. The scrubland has been used for informal recreation by local people for the twenty years immediately preceding the application. Evidence shows sufficient use by inhabitants of the locality to signify that the land in question was in general use for informal recreation, rather than occasional use by individuals as trespassers. Furthermore, it appears that the inhabitants of the area principally consist of people who live in Frenchay Road, Hayfield Road, Polstead Road and Chalfont Road.
  24. In the opinion of the Inspector, "informal recreation" has been enjoyed by local people on the scrubland and amount to lawful sports and pastimes in accordance with the notable House of Lords case involving Sunningwell Parish Council. In his opinion, the evidence shows that recreational user of the scrubland has been "as of right" throughout the relevant twenty year period and moreover, that user of the scrubland is continuing.
  25. The Inspector’s Recommendation

  26. In the opinion of the Inspector, no case has been made out on the evidence to register either the reed beds or Frog Lane east of the stream as a Town Green. Frog Lane is a means of access to the scrubland but it is not subject to recreational user in its own right. However, the applicant’s evidence does prove that the scrubland has become a Town Green. The scrubland includes the ten metre strip alongside the railway line which the applicant applied to exclude from her application. In his opinion, there is no evidence upon which any distinction can properly be made between that strip and the rest of the scrubland. The scrubland includes all the application land west of the stream, including the site of Frog Lane where it formerly ran west of the stream but which is now indistinguishable from the rest of the scrubland which has lain open to the rest of the scrubland for more than twenty years.
  27. In determining the application Members must pay no regard to the issue of the future of the Trap Grounds site. The application itself must be determined on the merits of its own case.
  28. Having read the recommendation, the Solicitor to the Council concurs with the view expressed by the Inspector.

  30. The Committee are RECOMMENDED:
          1. to register as Town Green that part of the application site shown edged on the plan which is attached to this report which is west of the stream known as "the scrubland", the registration to include:
              1. the site of Frog Lane where it formerly ran west of the stream; and
              2. the ten metre strip alongside the railway which the applicant applied to exclude from her application;

          2. not to register either the reed beds or Frog Lane east of the stream.

Solicitor to the Council

Background Papers: Application for Registration and Report of Inquiry Inspector

Contact Officer: Howard Perkins Tel 01865 810250

January 2003

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