The battle is on to take back control of stretch of coastal land
PUBLISHED: 10:18 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:24 30 August 2019
A bitter row has erupted over who has the right to use a stretch of land on the north Norfolk coast.
The Scolt Head and District Common Rightholders Association wants to reassert what is says is a centuries-old claim to the 621 acres known as Brancaster Marsh Common on the north Norfolk coast, near Wells.
Since the 1960s, the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club has built links, a car park and a number of buildings on the common, and the National Trust has built beach huts, all of which association members say are there illegally.
The claim is disputed by the club and the trust, who say they are willing to meet and discuss concerns.
The association says it should share an income from a car park, kiosk and beach huts on the common, and the golf club should also pay it compensation for using the land.
They say this money would go towards preserving the land as a common so the public could continue to have free access to it.
Chris Cotton, association chairman, said they had no wish to stop the golf club or National Trust using the land.
He said: "This is about conservation and ownership. The landowner according to the Enclosure Act is the parish, but if you go by documentation it's the golf club and the National Trust. But they cannot furnish proof of ownership, just land registry entry notes."
There are almost 300 common right holders, who registered the land in the 1960s, based on a historic claim that dates back to the Enclosure Act of 1765.
Tim Stephens, golf club secretary, said the club was aware of the view of "a few members" of the association, and "does not agree with the position they have taken".
Mr Stephens said the club always sought to act lawfully, and added: "The club values its good relationship with Brancaster village and Brancaster Parish Council, and is keen to remain on good terms with all those with an interest in the land at Brancaster."
Victoria Egan, general manager for the National Trust in north Norfolk said their ownership of part of the land had been registered with the Land Registry.
She said: "Any party who believes there is a valid claim of ownership by somebody else must in the first instance apply to challenge the register.
"We have offered to meet with the legal representatives of the association and discuss their concerns about ownership, but to date this offer has not been taken up."
It could ultimately fall to the courts to decide if the land is common land, but the association said they did not have the finances to take on a court battle.
Brancaster Marsh Common: Background to the common right holders' claim
Chris Cotton, chairman of the Scolt Head and District Common Rightholders Association, said the 621 acres of land was given to the 'poor of the parish' under an enclose act, when the then owner Norbourne Berkley relinquished his rights to the common.
He said: "The land was then usurped, we believe, by the lord of the manor, who, then, in 1925, had a sale of the manor.
"Then there was another sale in the 1960s, but if it was given to the poor of the parish and usurped by the lord of the manor, how can he then sell it and how can Rose Sutherland, who became lady of the manor, then buy it?
"She then sold it onto the golf club, but it wasn't hers to sell and it wasn't hers to sell and it wasn't theirs to buy.
"Our aim is to get the ownership sorted out, then things can settle down and the common can be managed under the law by the landowner and the commoners."
Brancaster Marsh Common: A parishioner's view
Another member of the association is Brian Everett, a lifelong resident of Brancaster who wished to be described as a parishioner.
Mr Everett, 86, said it was "vitally important" that the public maintain a right of access to Brancaster Marsh Common, and said any attempt to de-register the land would set a dangerous precedent.
He said: "De-registration would mean no access for the public or the parishioners. This would set a precedent of de-registration through the rest of the country.
"I think it's vital the public should have access to common land. We're becoming more urbanised and people have a right to air and exercise in the countryside."
Mr Everett said the right holders would be happy for the golf club to go on using part of the common if they were "good tenants", but some aspects of the way the land was being used, such as the car park, would have to be granted permission by a secretary of state.