Beach Battle Reaches High Court

A legal battle has blown up over plans to turn a beach into a ``town or village green''.

The High Court was told today registration of the West Beach at Newhaven, East Sussex, could have an impact on many other beaches around the country's coast.

The beach owners, Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd, are seeking a landmark ruling that registration of the stretch of sand, which is covered by water at high tide, would be ``incompatible'' with the company's right to ``the peaceful enjoyment'' of its possessions under Article 1 to the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The company is asking Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, to quash East Sussex County Council's decision last December to go ahead with registration despite its objections.

It says it has always been clear that the beach is a working area of the port.

The legal action is the culmination of a battle between local people and the owners, who fenced off the beach in 2008 for health and safety reasons.

Newhaven Town Council pressed for the beach to be reclassified as part of a campaign to get the sands reopened for public use.

In order to qualify for village green status, it had to show the stretch of foreshore, covering 15 acres at low water mark, had been used by local residents for ``legitimate sports or pastimes'' for at least 20 years.

People scoured their photo albums for proof and recalled how, on Christmas Day 1974, the beach doubled up as a sports ground.

They produced proof of people fishing, walking, riding their bikes and playing cricket on the sands when the tide allowed.

Today, Charles George QC, appearing for Newhaven Port and Properties, argued that the registration of a tidal beach as a village green was ``absurd'' and was the result of applying a literal interpretation to section 15 of the Commons Act 2006, which could not have been intended by Parliament.

Mr George argued that the inappropriateness of the move was illustrated by the fact that all similar tidal beaches around the coast of England and Wales would be potentially registrable in the same way.

He said: ``The true situation is that it never crossed anyone's mind that Bournemouth beach or Brighton beach might be village greens.''