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The Stray in Summer

The Stray - Common Land Registration



On 6 June, North Yorkshire Council gave notice of an application by the Open Spaces Society to register the Harrogate Stray under the Commons Act 2006. The Civic Society has submitted an objection to this application which is reproduced below:

Jayne Applegarth,
Commons Registration Officer,
North Yorkshire Council,
County Hall,

Dear Ms. Applegarth,

Application CA13 027 to Register the Stray, Harrogate as a Common.

We object to the application made by the Open Spaces Society (OSS) to register the Harrogate Stray, under the Commons Registration Act 2006.

The Stray was exempted from the Commons Registration Act 1965 on 26th November 1966 due to its protection under a Local Act. The Stray is currently protected by the Harrogate Stray Act 1985, under which previous Acts dating from 1770 were repealed. The 1985 Act was considered necessary because local statutory provisions would have ceased to have effect at the end of 1984. The current Act is very specific in its requirements that protect the Stray which is in effect common land. The Act has served the town well since 1985.

In 2016, Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) was minded to change the Harrogate Stray Act to allow greater use or uses than currently apply. However, the Council decided to put this idea to the public and a Consultation took place, ending on 6th February 2017. The Consultation carefully laid out the current Stray rules, followed by sensible questions regarding use of the Stray. The result of this public consultation was resounding support for the existing provisions of the Act, so no further moves were contemplated. The Duchy of Lancaster was content with this outcome. See the front page of the consultation and a letter from the Duchy of Lancaster dated 14th February 2017 attached to our email of 18th July 2023.

The Stray Map cannot be changed even if exchange land is required due to road and footpath building etc. Also the exchange land will not become Stray but classed as public open space. You will see for instance that the construction of the Empress roundabout did not result in the deletion of the considerable area of land that it and the associated roads occupy, but exchange land was necessary. On the official Stray map a triangle of land near the War Memorial on Wetherby Road near the hospital is not designated Stray. In the OSS application to register the Stray under the Commons Act, this triangle is marked as Stray, with a small portion excluded. The triangle was part of the exchange land due to the construction of the Empress roundabout and so is public open space. See letters from the solicitor to Harrogate Borough Council dated 13th November 2000 and 10th August 2000 attached to our email of 18th July 2023.

Certain areas within the Stray are excluded from designation as such. From the Stray Map as supplied by the Duchy of Lancaster, several buildings seem to be ‘washed over’. The excluded areas not included as Stray land are -
Church Square, Christ Church, The Pavilion close to Knaresborough Road, the railway track (except for the foot bridges and Royal Bridge that is part of York Place) and the Royal Pump Room.

The OSS from their drawings would in addition exclude the public convenience close to Knaresborough Road, Tewit Well, the Sub Station close to Regent Parade and St. John’s Well.

It is interesting to note that the site of Devonshire Place toilets (actually nearer to Regent Parade), now demolished, was also classed as Stray Land. These toilets were probably built erroneously there, without proper regard for a previous Stray Act, then in force. Demolition of these toilets resulted in HBC considering using the area of the site as exchange land, but realised that it could not be, because it appeared on the map as Stray land.

We haven’t heard of problems regarding easements for access over Stray land. If Stray land is required/desired for access or any other purpose due to a planning application or construction works, HBC has, to our knowledge, informed the applicant that they should contact the Duchy of Lancaster. We presume this advice will continue to be given by North Yorkshire Council. Most commonly, access would be requested across Stray strips (grass verges) and we believe that such requests are granted. Should this not be the case, it seems likely that registration as a Common would make no difference. If Stray land were to appear on the Commons Registration Act map then it would show up on Local Search results for property purchasers etc.. This does not however outweigh the potential for confusion if both the Stray Act and the Commons Registration Act apply to the same land.

The apparent urge for completeness of Common Land Registration by the OSS does not in itself provide a reason. We do not believe that the occasional need for easements or exchange land due to the potential for road building etc. can justify having two Acts of Parliament for management of the Stray.

Even though the Harrogate Stray Act 1985 seems to be written carefully, it has occasionally led to differences of opinion in its interpretation. How much greater would the possibility of such differences be if use of the Stray involved two Acts of Parliament. Surely no-one, least of all North Yorkshire Council, would relish having time consuming and expensive additional legal problems to resolve. The Civic Society is certainly not in favour of all the hard work that was undertaken to ensure that we have the 1985 Harrogate Stray Act, being brought into confusion. The public, in the Consultation of 2016/2017 made it clear that the Act should not be changed. As a result no changes to the 1985 Stray Act or an additional Act were contemplated by HBC.

Please take into account all the above information and reasons for the Harrogate Civic Society declining support of registration of the Stray under the Commons Registration Act 2006. The balance falls heavily against its registration.

Yours sincerely,
Henry Pankhurst
On behalf of Harrogate Civic Society

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