Woodland given to homeowner over council in ‘squatter’s rights’ case

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A woman who has looked after disputed woodland near her home on the edge of Sudbury for over a decade has been declared its rightful owner in a ‘squatter’s rights’ case.

Tracy Ann King applied to the Land Registry in December 2014 to be registered as owner of land near her home in Chilton Grove, Waldingfield Road.

But Suffolk County Council objected to her claim over the 0.3 acres of woodland, which was planted approximately 25 years ago.

First-tier Tribunal Judge Ann McAllister, sitting at Colchester Magistrates Court, said the disputed land forms part of a larger area known as Chilton Grove Farm, which is owned by and registered in the name of the council.

Ms King’s bungalow, which she moved into in 1999/2000, was constructed as a personnel hut during the Second World War within the now disused Chilton Airfield.

The council made a decision before selling the bungalow, to retain the disputed land as a buffer area and amenity area in the event of development on what used to be the airfield.

The area is now part of the proposed Chilton Woods development which will include housing, a new school, shops, and other amenities, said the judge.

Ms King approached the council to buy the disputed land in 1999 but it refused to sell.

She accepted the council owned the disputed land on paper.

But she felt ‘very strongly’ that, after looking after it for some 15 years, and having tried to purchase it, the land in ‘some sense belongs to her’.

She claimed the disputed land was fenced off in September 2000, and that, since that date if not before, the land had been used exclusively by her and her family.

From 2000 onwards, Ms King stated that she planted hundreds of bulbs, created paths, cut back the undergrowth and put in a concrete seat and other features.

She said she also created an outdoor fire place, held annual parties, put in an electric cable for lighting and for CCTV.

The land was treated as ‘part of the garden’, she told the tribunal.

“I have no hesitation in finding that the disputed land is occupied exclusively by Ms King and her family, and that the land is used and dealt with as an occupying owner might be expected to use and deal with it,” said Judge McAllister.

She said it is ‘looked after and tended on a regular basis’ and that items such as seating and a swing ‘suggest use and occupation’.

“The council, it seems to me, took no interest in the disputed land between 2000 and 2014,” added the judge.

Having been in unchallenged and exclusive possession of the woodland for over 12 years, it was rightfully hers, the judge ruled.

“The applicant succeeds in her application, I will accordingly order the Chief Land Registrar to give effect to her application dated December 10, 2014,” she concluded.

Judge McAllister gave her ruling on November 24 last year, but it has only recently been published.