CUSTODIANS of common land in North Staffordshire have won their battle to stop a Bucknall woman claiming a disputed site as her own.
Mrs Sylvia Hambleton, of Whitegates Farm, Eaves Lane claimed that three pieces of land surrounding her home on Wetley Moor, near Werrington belonged to her.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, which manage the common – a rare lowland heath – insisted that they owned the entire land and that Mrs Hambleton was merely the leaseholder of the disputed area.
And on Friday, December 3rd, HM Land Registry ruled in favour of the two councils following a summary hearing in London.
Adjudicator Mr Owen Rhys further ruled that Mrs Hambleton should pay the councils’ legal costs, to be determined.
Mr Rhys found that Mrs Hambleton had produced no evidence to support her application to be registered as the freehold title holder.
In fact, her evidence proved that she was only the leaseholder of the disputed three and a half acres of land accommodating the farmhouse and outbuildings.
Indeed, Mrs Hambleton’s evidence merely supported her earlier recollection that she had bought only the “bricks and mortar” of her home from its previous owner and not the land on which it stood.
Mr Rhys dismissed Mrs Hambleton’s claim that successive law firms must have lost the deeds proving that she was the freeholder: “It is inconceivable that any original document of title would have been retained in the purchase file, and not in safe storage, still less that any such documents would have been destroyed”.
Mr Rhys explained how Mrs Hambleton had come to buy her house from owners who were not freeholders either: “It seems that over the course of many years dwellings had been erected on Wetley Moor Common without express permission from the freeholders and without the benefit of any lease. These dwellings were bought and sold without any underlying legal right to retain them in place”.
The adjudicator found that the councils had a “good unregistered title to the disputed land” because of a 1927 conveyance transferring the land to the city council and to Cheadle Rural District Council – the predecessor of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.
Cllr Mark Deaville, district council portfolio holder for leisure, sport, parks and countryside, said: “This is an important legal victory for the two councils, which are determined to protect Wetley Moor as common land for future generations in line with the 1927 conveyance”.