The Queen has won squatter’s rights over a large tract of the Severn Estuary potentially worth many millions as a site for tidal and wind power electricity generation.
Appeal judges ruled that the Crown Estate Commissioners, who own virtually the entire UK seabed out to the 12-mile limit, had acquired “adverse possession” of part of the Severn foreshore and river bed by using it for many years before its ancient Lordship title was bought by historian Mark Roberts in 1997.
The judges rejected Mr Roberts’s argument that there was a centuries-old constitutional principle limiting the right of the Crown to acquire title to land by adverse possession.
Lord Justice Mummery, sitting with Lord Justice Jacob and Mr Justice Mann, said: “The same law that applies between subjects of the Crown also applies as between the Crown and its subjects.”
The ruling, which related to an area known as “the Magor Land”, was given in preliminary court proceedings pending a complex legal battle, to begin in the Spring, over ownership of large tracts of the Severn Estuary.
Last April, after an examination of laws from Magna Carta to the present day, High Court judge Mr Justice Lindsay handed down rulings on “paper title” claims dating back to the 13th century.
Mr Roberts, suing under the name Mark Andrew Tudor, Lord Marcher of Trelleck, is a renowned expert on the ancient laws and history of Lordships or Manors, particularly those on the Welsh Marches, and has acquired more than 60 of them. They include, he says, the Lordships Marcher of Mathern, Caerleon and Magor – many thousands of acres of sand and mudflats in tidal estuary areas on the Welsh side off Portskewett, Redwick and Goldcliff to the south-west of the first Severn Road Bridge.
He acquired the Lordships between 1997 and 2003 and says his title runs back to the conquest of the Principality of Wales by Edward I – “Edward Longshanks” – in 1282. But when he tried to register his title with HM Land Registry, he ran into conflict with three other claimants to title – Swangrove Estates, the estate company of the Dukes of Beaufort (as to Mathern and Caerleon), the Crown Estate Commissioners (as to Magor) and John Hanbury-Tenison (as to a slim area close to the shore which Mr Roberts claims is part of Magor).
Everyone involved claims to have been in possession themselves and through predecessors in title for centuries. This is the subject of the main court action, yet to be heard. But they also claim ownership by adverse possession on the basis that their physical custody and control of the land pre-dates everyone else.
Lord Justice Mummery said today that, at least since 1958, the Crown Estates Commissioners had occupied the Magor land by issuing licences for sand dredging. The Crown had also regulated fishing, borehole prospecting, spoil dumping and archaeological use and, most dramatically of all, military use in World War Two as an RAF bombing range and gunnery practice area.
20 February 2008
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