Dismay at Deregistration of Hilton, Murton, Burton and Warcop Fells by MoD

We were dismayed that Cumbria County Council has approved the deregistration of approximately 3230 ha of common land owned by the Ministry of Defence at Warcop. The silver lining is that through the efforts of the objectors, 23% of the total area (970 ha) has been saved from deregistration.

Following the recommendations of the Inspector, the Inquiry focussed on two complex legal tests for assessing the Ministry of Defence’s application. Firstly the legal ‘power’ issue and whether the legislation gave the Ministry of Defence the power to make this application given the nature of the vesting deed which was to extinguish rights (not purchase the soil). Early on in the Inquiry it was ascertained that the Ministry of Defence did have the power to make this application, moreover they did not have to give a justification as to why they needed to deregister the common land.

The Inquiry then centred on whether the land could still be considered as “Waste of the Manor.” There are three tests to qualify as waste of the manor; land has to be open, uncultivated and unoccupied. Everybody agreed that the land is uncultivated, so the Ministry of Defence’s case was based on two arguments; firstly that the granting of grazing licences meant the land was now occupied and secondly that the control of access through the Danger Area by-laws constitutes occupation. The inspector did accept the second point but not the first. This is why the Inspector recommends that the land in the Danger Area is deregistered, but not the land known as Area Victor which is outside the Danger Area. Area Victor, at around 970 ha comprises approximately 70% of Murton Common.

Sadly, the County Councillors had little choice except to follow the recommendation of the Inspector given the legal complexities of this case. But we were pleased that that the Inspector recognised the strength of the evidence presented on the grazing levels, low rents paid and nature of the licences demonstrated that the licences did not constitute “occupation” so saving 970 ha (2400 acres) from deregistration.