R (on the application of Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd) v East Sussex County Council

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLady Hale,Lord Hodge,Lord Sumption,Lord Carnwath,Lord Neuberger
Judgment Date25 February 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] UKSC 7
Date25 February 2015
CourtSupreme Court

[2015] UKSC 7


Hilary Term

On appeal from: [2013] EWCA Civ 276


Lord Neuberger, President

Lady Hale, Deputy President

Lord Sumption

Lord Carnwath

Lord Hodge

R (On the Application of Newhaven Port and Properties Limited)
East Sussex County Council and Another


Charles George QC

Philip Petchey (Instructed by DMH Stallard LLP)

Respondent (East Sussex County Council)

Stephen Sauvain QC

John Hunter (Instructed by East Sussex County Council Legal )

Respondent (Newhaven Town Council)

George Laurence QC

Edwin Simpson (Instructed by Hedleys Solicitors LLP)

Heard on 3 and 4 November 2014

Lord Hodge

Lord Neuberger AND( with whom Lady Hale and Lord Sumption agree)


The specific issue raised by this appeal is whether East Sussex County Council ("the County Council") was wrong in law to decide to register an area of just over 6 hectares (or 15 acres) known as West Beach at Newhaven ("the Beach") as a village green pursuant to the provisions of the Commons Act 2006. The points of principle raised by the appeal are, potentially at least, far more wide-ranging. Those points are (i) the nature of the public's rights over coastal beaches, (ii) whether byelaws can give rise to an implied consent to the public to use land, and (iii) the interrelationship of the statutory law relating to village greens and other duties imposed by statute.

The factual background

Newhaven is a port town on the mouth of the River Ouse in East Sussex, and its harbour ("the Harbour") has existed since the mid-sixteenth century, after a storm blocked the original mouth of the River Ouse, some three miles to the east. Since at least 1731, the operation of the Harbour has been subject to legislation. The Newhaven Harbour and Ouse Lower Navigation Act 1847 ("the 1847 Newhaven Act") repealed the earlier legislation, and established harbour trustees ("the trustees"), to whom it gave powers to maintain and support the harbour and associated works.


Section 49 of the 1847 Newhaven Act is in these terms:

"[T]he Trustees shall maintain, and support the said harbour of Newhaven, and the piers, groynes, sluices, wharfs, mooring berths, and other works connected therewith, and also maintain and support the open navigation of the River Ouse between Newhaven Bridge and Lewes Bridge …"


The Newhaven Harbour and Ouse Lower Navigation Act 1863 ("the 1863 Newhaven Act") gave the trustees powers to construct and maintain and support the Harbour and associated works.


The Newhaven Harbour Improvement Act 1878 ("the 1878 Newhaven Act") established the Newhaven Harbour Company to which were transferred the rights, powers and duties of the trustees. Under section 57 of the 1878 Newhaven Act it is provided that:

"the Company may hire or purchase and use any dredging machine for the purpose of deepening and cleansing the harbour …"

Section 2 of the 1878 Newhaven Act applied to the port section 33 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 ("the 1847 Clauses Act"), which provides that:

"Upon payment of the rates made payable by this and the special Act, and subject to the other provisions thereof, the harbour, dock and pier shall be open to all persons for the shipping and unshipping of goods, and the embarking and landing of passengers."


By virtue of the Southern Railway Act 1926, the Harbour Company was vested in the Southern Railway Company. Pursuant to the Transport Act 1947, the Southern Railway Company was nationalised, and the Harbour was vested in the British Transport Commission. As a result of subsequent statutory and contractual arrangements, the Harbour subsequently vested in British Railways Board (1962), Sealink (UK) Limited (1979), Sea Containers Limited (1984), and, most recently, in 1991, Newhaven Port and Properties Limited ("NPP"), pursuant to the Sealink (Transfer of Newhaven Harbour) Harbour Revision Order 1991 (SI 1991/1257) ("the 1991 Newhaven Order").


Paras 10 and 11 of the 1991 Newhaven Order provide:

"10 (1) The Company, subject to obtaining the necessary rights in or over land, may execute, place, maintain and operate in and over the transferred harbour such works and equipments as are required for or in connection with the exercise by it of any of its functions and may alter, renew or extend any works so constructed or placed.

11 (1) The Company may deepen, widen, dredge, scour and improve the bed and foreshore of the transferred harbour and may blast any rock within the transferred harbour or in such approaches. …"


The Beach is part of the operational land of the Harbour, which is currently owned and operated by NPP, and is subject to statutory provisions and byelaws. The extent of the Harbour area includes (i) a substantial breakwater and lighthouse, seawall and the Beach which form the west of the entry into the port, (ii) a pier, a much longer (and naturally created) shingle beach which form the east of that entry, (iii) the mouth of the River Ouse and the next thousand metres or so of the river, and (iv) land running either side of the river, which includes (v) a car park, marina and fishing berth to the west, and (vi) two quays, a ferry dock, a cool store, a harbour railway station, and harbour offices to the east. NPP's current strategic plan for development of the port is contained in its Masterplan (2012).


The Beach owes its origin to the fact that, in 1883, pursuant to the powers granted by the 1863 Newhaven Act, the substantial breakwater was constructed to form the western boundary of the Harbour. The breakwater extends just over 700 metres out to sea. After the construction of the breakwater, accretion of sand occurred along the eastern side of the breakwater, and that accretion has resulted in the Beach. To the north, the Beach is bounded by a harbour wall. On top of the harbour wall is an area of hard standing and a car park, which is now owned and operated by NPP. There are physically two means of access to the Beach: first, by steps leading down from the top of the wall, and, secondly, by another set of steps leading down from the top of the breakwater.


The Beach is substantially covered by the sea for periods of time either side of high tide. Inevitably, as the tide ebbs and flows, the amount of the land uncovered varies, and the amount of the land uncovered at low tide and the period for which the whole of the Beach is covered with water varies between spring (high) and neap (low) tides. On average, the Beach is wholly covered by water for 42% of the time and for the remaining 58% of the time it is uncovered to some extent, but it is entirely uncovered by water only for a few minutes at a time.


The steps leading down to the Beach from the top of the harbour wall were accessible in practice by members of the public from shortly after the end of the Second World War (during which time it was closed) until it was fenced off by NPP in April 2006. Thereafter, access by the public was no longer possible, because access from the steps leading from the top of the breakwater had been closed off before 2006.

The making of byelaws relating to Newhaven Harbour

Section 58 of the 1878 Newhaven Act conferred on the Harbour Company the power to make byelaws which were to be approved and published in the manner prescribed by the 1847 Clauses Act. Section 83 of the 1847 Clauses Act gives to the "undertakers" in whom a harbour is vested the power to make byelaws "as they shall think fit" for various purposes, including "[f]or regulating the use of the harbour, dock, or pier". Section 84 provides for criminal sanctions at the suit of the undertaker for breach of such byelaws. Section 85 of the 1847 Clauses Act states that the byelaws should not "come into operation until the same be confirmed" as required by that Act. Sections 86 and 87 of that Act are concerned with advertising and providing copies of the byelaws before confirmation.


Provisions relating to the publication and display of such byelaws were contained in sections 88 and 89 of the 1847 Clauses Act:

"88. The said byelaws when confirmed shall be published in the prescribed manner, and when no manner of publication is prescribed they shall be printed; and the clerk to the undertakers shall deliver a printed copy thereof to every person applying for the same, without charge, and a copy thereof shall be painted or placed on boards, and put up in some conspicuous part of the office of the undertakers, and also on some conspicuous part of the harbour, dock, or pier, and such boards, with the byelaws thereon, shall be renewed from time to time, as occasion shall require, and shall be open to inspection without fee or reward …

89. All byelaws made and confirmed according to the provisions of this and the special Act, when so published and put up, shall be binding upon and be observed by all parties, and shall be sufficient to justify all persons acting under the same."

Section 89 was repealed by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1993. Section 90 of the 1847 Clauses Act provides that "[t]he Production of a written or printed Copy of the Bye laws" appropriately authenticated "shall be evidence of the Existence and due making of such Bye Laws", and "with respect to the Proof of the Publication of any such Bye Laws it shall be sufficient to prove that a Board containing a Copy thereof was put up and continued in manner by this Act directed …".


In February 1931, the Southern Railway Company made byelaws for the Regulation of Newhaven Harbour ("the Byelaws"), which were confirmed by the Minister of Transport the following month. The following Byelaws are germane to the present appeal:

"51. No person shall enter or remain on the quays of the harbour unless he has lawful business thereon, or has received permission from the Harbour Master to do so; and every person...

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