In Winterburn & another v. Bennett & another
 EWCA Civ 482 the Court of Appeal held that signs clearly
visible to all stating that a car park was private property
defeated a claim by a neighbouring owner that it had acquired a
right to park thereon by long use.
The case concerned a car park in Yorkshire. For many years it
was owned by the Conservative Club Association which maintained a
sign at the entrance which read "Private car park. For the use
of Club patrons only. By order of the Committee". It was
established that this and another similar sign on the Club building
were "clearly visible to all users of the car park" and
clearly informed all users "that it was a private car park for
the use of Club patrons only". The signs were taken down in
Adjacent to the entrance of the car park was a fish and chip
shop. Since the late 1980s the owners, customers and suppliers of
the shop had parked in the car park.
In 2012, following a change in ownership of the car park, the
entrance was obstructed so as to prevent vehicular access. In
response, the owners of the shop, the Winterburns, claimed they and
their visitors had acquired a right to use the car park through
prescription i.e. long use.
In claiming a right through long use, a claimant must show at
least 20 years' uninterrupted use. However, the use must have
been "as of right", namely, without force, without
secrecy and without permission. "Without force" means
more than without violence; it means that the use (here the parking
of cars on the car park) has been carried on without protest from
the owner of the land i.e. it is not contentious and the owner has
acquiesced in it.
The question in this case was whether the presence of the signs
in the car park counted as a sufficient protest by the landowner to
defeat the claim?
The Court of Appeal held that the signs alone were sufficient to
defeat the claim. The owner of the car park did not have to go
further by, for example, erecting a physical barrier, writing legal
letters to the offending parties or taking legal action. In the
words of Lord Justice Richards "I reject the notion that it is
necessary for the owner, having made his protest clear, to take
further steps of confronting the wrongdoers known to him orally or
in writing, still less to go to the expense and trouble of legal
proceedings". He went on to comment "there is a social
cost to confrontation and, unless absolutely necessary, the law of
property should not require confrontation in order for people to
retain and defend what is theirs".
This decision will be welcomed by landowners wishing to prevent
third parties acquiring rights over their land through long
However, it should not be assumed that signs will always be
sufficient. For example:
it is clear that the decision was dependent on the signs being
legible, clear and visible to all users. In other circumstances
where such criteria are not met, signs alone may not be sufficient
to protect the landowner; and
the sign must prohibit the relevant activity – a "no
parking" sign will not also prohibit a right of way on
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