In the recent case of Winterburn v Bennett, the Court of Appeal had to decide whether the presence of signs constituted a sufficient protest by the owner of the land so as to prevent another party acquiring a right to park on it.
The owner of a car park (“the Landowner”) had erected signs in its car park which stated “Private Car Park. For the use of club patrons only.” A neighbouring Fish and Chip shop (“the Shop”) operated next to the entrance to the car park, and its customers and suppliers would use the car park.
When access to the car park was denied, the Shop applied to the First Tier Tribunal on the basis that it had acquired a prescriptive right to park in the car park, having done so for more than 20 years. The First Tier Tribunal agreed that a right to park had been acquired. The Landlowner successfully overturned this finding on appeal ,and the Shop therefore appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The case turned on the status of the Landowner’s sign, and whether it was sufficient to prevent the Shop from acquiring a right to park on the land, or whether the Landowner had acquiesced in such use so as to entitle the Shop to such a right, notwithstanding the presence of the sign.
The Court of Appeal held that on the facts of the case, the signs were by themselves sufficient to make contentious the parking of cars by the Shop, their customers and suppliers. The Landowner did not have to enforce its rights by physical obstruction, or by legal action. The presence of the signs clearly indicated the Landowner’s continuing objection to the unauthorised parking.
If someone were to read the sign, they would clearly understand what it meant and that no-one else other than club patrons was allowed to park there. The signs were a proportionate protest.
Where the Landowner made its position clear through the erection of clearly visible signs, the parking could not be said to be continuing “as of right.” If anyone chose to ignore the signs, they should not be entitled to acquire rights over the land.
This case does not decide new law but it does make clear that a landowner can protect its position by erecting signs, as long as it does so in good time and before a twenty year period of use by another party has accrued.
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