When ELF was approached by the Friends of George Street Woods, last year, they had a fantastic story to tell. A small woodland in Glossop, used by locals for many decades was under siege by a local resident, living adjacent to the woodland who was seeking to claim possession of it. The title has been lost and no one knows who now owns it.
Since the 1940s George Street Woods (“the Woods”), a small area of woodland in the centre of Glossop, post-industrial land reclaimed by nature, had been used by the local community for leisure/recreation and was one of the more popular play areas for children, with a river and a pond. The attempted possession had been on-going since 2009 when the local resident had first tried to enclose the woodland. Since that time actions have included two unsuccessful planning applications by the resident for a caravan site, unauthorised felling of trees that led to the imposition of Tree Preservation Orders, and an unsuccessful village green application by the community.
In 2016 the Woods were designated ‘Local Green Space’ under provisions made available in the Local Plan. Additionally, the Woods had been classified as part of a conservation area which itself is part of the Glossop heritage.
In June 2017, the local resident took a mini digger onto the land and ‘scraped’ an area of the Woods populated by saplings and shrubbery, flattening the area. After this latest attempt at possession, the community decided that drastic action was required and took up occupation of the site. When the ELF enquirer contacted ELF, the Woodlings, had been in occupation for a couple of months but had just received notice of eviction from the local resident.
ELF approached ELF member barrister Constance Bell at Kings Chambers who provided advice throughout the preparation for the various court hearings regarding the eviction. The question was whether the local resident had sufficient interest in the land to be able to evict the occupiers. It was clear that there could not be a claim for adverse possession as the requisite time of 20 years had not been achieved and the community stated that any attempts at possession had been interrupted.
However, since the Manchester Airport case (Manchester Airport Plc v Dutton  1 Q.B. 133, the Court of Appeal considered whether the right to bring possession proceedings was restricted to those with a legal estate in the property, or included licensees. It has been clear that a licensee (in certain circumstances) has standing to bring a claim. The direction of travel has been to move away from strict ownership requirements for the purposes of eviction. Stanzie concluded that “the alleged possessor had been dealing with the land in question as an occupying owner might have been expected to deal with it and that no-one else has done so” and therefore had a better claim. She felt that the court would be likely to find that there was sufficient claim over the land be able to evict the occupiers. However, she also felt that if the Woodlings could make their case sufficiently, especially regarding the background to the claim, they might get a sympathetic hearing.
In the end the Woodlings decided, with the excellent advice and support from Stanzie, to represent themselves. There had been a previous approach by the claimant to the Woodlings, to cover the claimant’s costs which the group had rejected. On the day, sadly there was not a full hearing and the occupiers were not able to give the evidence that they wished to. On the plus side, whilst the Woodlings were indeed evicted, costs awarded were agreed at only £500.
Equally sadly, this is just the latest stage in the fight for this woodland.
We are grateful to Michael for his kind words and ELF will continue to assist this community:
“I came across ELF during a phase of trawling the internet and on several occasions ended up being disappointed. However on finding ELF, what was more than apparent was the approachable, friendly and enthusiastic presence. I sent an email and there were none of the usual tardy vague responses, but a very quick response and from there on it was clear that ELF are helpful, encouraging and responsive. Amongst the legal professionals that ELF has amongst their advisors, there are fully committed professionals whom quite frankly are beyond compare. To quote one of our group (Friends of George Street Woods) they are “remarkable” and as far as I’m concerned, that’s an understatement. Their assistance and advice gave us a confidence and knowledge to take our case forward. It is on-going but we would never have even attempted to fight the case for the Woods without the help from ELF”