The case of R (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trusts) v Oxfordshire County Council has clarified three points of law regarding the registration of recreational greens, with one of the three points having clear ramifications for the estate management practices for owners of large open spaces.
The most significant consequence of the decision of this case is in respect of erecting notices to exclude people from using a large open space. In the present case a sign stating "No public right of way" was insufficient to prevent members of the public from acquiring rights to use the Warneford Meadow as a recreational green.
Landowners need to be very specific in the rights they are trying to prevent others from acquiring. Although the landowner did not realise that a right to use an area of open space as an open space could be acquired, the landowner tried to argue that a prohibition against public rights of way would be sufficient to prevent the recreational rights. The Judge found that this sort of prohibition was ineffective in preventing the acquisitions of a right to use an open space as a recreational green. Therefore landowners should now take steps to ensure that their notices cover the full spectrum of rights that can be obtained from long use.
The case also decided that the requirement that a predominant number of users had to come from one locality no longer applied. This case highlighted that rights to use an area as green could be acquired by a significant number of inhabitants using the space from a number of different localities. Previously a significant portion of users needed to come from one locality. This has had the effect of meaning a wider number of users can be taken into account making it easier to reach the threshold required to register a green. Finally, the case found that where the rights are established for one locality these can be subsequently enjoyed by users from another locality. The Judge highlighted the impracticality of a landowner excluding users from outside the locality that had acquired the rights.
Unlike the first point these last two points will be significant when a party is seeking to register rights and landowners are seeking to fend off their application.