The attempt to secure access to the West Beach in Newhaven has failed today (Wednesday February 24) after the Supreme Court said the area could not be registered as a village green.
NPP was appealing to the Supreme Court against a decision by the Appeal Court in March 2013 that the beach could be registered as a village green.
This comes at the same time as Newhaven Port and Properties, which owns the sandy West Beach, has announced its plans to expand its operations into part of Tide Mills beach.
The grounds given for the judgement by the Supreme Court were that the existence of the port byelaws, even though they were not drawn to the attention of the public, had the effect of conferring permission on the public to use the beach.
The judgement said if village green status were granted this would create an incompatibility between the statutory power of the port authority to operate the port and the statutory rights of the users of the village green.
The beach has been used for generations of Newhaven residents prior to its closure by NPP in 2006.
Newhaven mayor Judith Ost said: “This is very disappointing news for the residents of Newhaven, who we know have been hoping and praying that our application to safeguard the beach for their use would succeed.
“The town council has done everything in its power to try and get the beach re-opened.
“When we asked local people in 2008 whether we should apply for village green status we received an overwhelming response with more than 1,000 people filling in forms pledging their support for the idea and saying how much they wanted the beach open.
“We have followed the wishes of local people and taken this to the highest court in the land.
“As well as pursuing the case through the courts, we have repeatedly tried to reach agreement with NPP outside the court.
“We have held private talks with them throughout the process asking them to allow the public to use the beach and discussing practical solutions to health and safety concerns.”
Cllr Ost continued: “The Supreme Court has today found that the beach has been used by local people for generations by permission of the port authority – and we see no reason why local people cannot continue to do so.
“We still hope to persuade the port authority to grant permission again and call upon them to re-open talks with us immediately. NPP has the power to turn disappointment into joy by letting people back on to the beach this summer.
“Although we always knew we might lose the legal case, we thought we had a good chance of winning. The very fact that the case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court and that it has taken the judges so long to consider their verdict proves that we were right to think this – this was not a cut and dried issue, but one which has been the subject of intense debate amongst the finest legal experts in village green law in this country.
“If we had won we would have secured the rights of local people to use the beach in perpetuity.`
“We have taken care to minimise the cost to Newhaven council tax payers by agreeing with NPP prior to this hearing that neither side would seek costs from the other.
“We have always said that we would very much have preferred to spend the money spent on legal costs on practical things like the repair of the steps to the beach. We only wish NPP had allowed us to do this.”