In November 2017, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) awarded Village Green status to the Hollycroft Field in the hamlet of East Chiltington. This was the end of a long saga – nearly four years after the initial application was submitted. It was the result of both the determination of local residents, and the support of the fantastic work of a pupil barrister provided through the ELF pro-bono professional network.
The Hollycroft Field is located next to a cluster of council and former council housing in the centre of the Parish. On a daily basis, people walk their dogs, and in the summer play sports and games, on the field. Every year, it is the venue for annual parish parties, bringing together this otherwise dispersed rural community. There are few other facilities: no shop, no village hall, no school, so the Hollycroft Field is very important to residents.
The Parish Council first applied for Village Green status in December 2013. However, the landowner, Lewes District Council (LDC), objected to the application, arguing that the field had been used ‘by right’ rather than ‘as of right’, and drawing on the R (Barkas) v North Yorkshire County Council (2014) judgment in support of this. The Parish Council contested LDC’s objection, suggesting that the evidence to support it was incorrect, and presenting new evidence to prove this. However, when LDC responded with a barrister’s submission in further defence of its objection, the Parish Council realised that it also needed legal help.
The Chair of the Parish Council got in touch with ELF, who suggested a pupil barrister at FTB, Joe Newbigin, whose services were offered at a subsidised rate – funds that were raised within the village. Joe then worked together with residents, turning a vast amount of detailed evidence, unearthed through extensive archival research, into a compelling legal case. ESCC employed independent Counsel to adjudicate on what had become a complex set of arguments. This Counsel agreed with the Parish Council’s case and it was on his recommendation that ESCC’s Commons and Village Green Registration Panel finally, and unanimously, decided to award Village Green status.
In the process, residents of East Chiltington have learned a great deal about both the history of the Parish and legal argument. They were always convinced that their case was a strong one, but it was Joe’s attention to detail and painstaking construction of the argument that made the difference to the success.