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Rights to Park: High Court considers appeal as to whether car parking rights existed over a private road (Campden Hill Gate Ltd v Duchess of Bedford House RTM Company Ltd and others – 2022)

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Long-leaseholders of flats in a building in central London brought a claim seeking a declaration that they enjoyed rights to park on an adjacent private road. The County Court found in their favour, agreeing that such rights existed for their benefit. An appeal was brought in the High Court by the unsuccessful defendant to challenge the decision.

The background

Campden Hill Gate Ltd v Duchess of Bedford House RTM Company Ltd and others [2022] concerns a private residential block of flats in central London, contained within a 1930s mansion property. The block faces onto a private road, Sheldrake Place East, which is part of Sheldrake Square, a larger garden square.

Sheldrake Place also contains two other mansion blocks, of which the head lessee is Campden Hill Gate Limited (“CHG”). CHG is also the head lessee of roads and central gardens around Sheldrake Place. The leaseholders of Duchess of Bedford House, acting by its RTM company (“DBH”), sought a declaration that they benefited from car parking rights on Sheldrake Place East. The County Court agreed and CHG appealed to the High Court.

The freeholder, the Phillimore Estate, granted a long lease of the property in 1929, with further underleases granted out of that headlease. By 1969, most flats in the building were let under short, 3-year tenancies. Also in 1969, Campden Hill Gate and Sheldrake Place were demised under a long lease to CHG’s predecessor in title. The 1969 headlease reserved rights to the Phillimore Estate, including “all other easements quasi-easements and rights belonging to or enjoyed by any adjoining or neighbouring premises”, and DBH argued that such rights included car parking rights for residents of the property.

Over subsequent years, parking was a continual issue. A leasehold restructure in 1974 saw a new headlease granted, which DBH argued granted car parking rights on Sheldrake Place East to the head lessee although the Phillimore Estate – the freeholder of DBH – had reserved such rights to itself in 1969. DBH argued that either:

  1. If the 1969 reservation of rights created a legal easement in favour of DBH, the 1974 headlease granted the benefit of that easement to the new head lessee; or
  2. If no legal easement existed by 1974, one was created by s.62(2) of the Law of Property Act 1925.

CHG did not agree, stating that the 1974 headlease expressly carved out rights which were not to be passed on, which included – it argued – the right to park. The County Court found that car parking rights were reserved to the Phillimore Estate in 1969, stating that a legal easement existed which was then passed on under the 1974 headlease. The County Court stated that the right was not carved out in the 1974 headlease. As rights available to the then-head lessee were capable of being passed onto the current leaseholders of DBH, it fell that they enjoyed car parking rights on the road.

The decision

The High Court allowed the appeal, finding that car parking rights were not enjoyed by DBH. CHG argued that:

  1. The County Court’s analysis of the 1969 parking arrangements was incorrect;
  2. The County Court mis-applied Newman v Jones [1982], which stated that a right for a dominant owner to park in the same space could not be an easement, although a general easement to park on a piece of land could exist; and
  3. The County Court was wrong to find that the benefit of rights to park was passed on by Phillimore Estate under the 1974 headlease.

Although the County Court had correctly found that car park rights existing in 1969 could be characterised as a legal easement, and the interpretation of the carve-out provisions was generally correct, the court had erred in finding that the easement was not captured by the second part of the carve-out provisions. The High Court found that the easement was captured by the carve-out; it was not considered as falling within the 1974 headlease demise, such that rights therefore remained with the Phillimore Estate and were not capable of being passed onto DBH.

Advice and action for landlords

This decision turns on the modern interpretation of documentation over 50 years old in some cases, in the context of a long history of parking issues at the property.

The High Court allowed the appeal based on the ‘ordinary and natural meaning’ of the words of the carve-out provision, finding that rights to park did fall within the carve-out and were therefore excluded from the 1974 demise. Although technical in its nature, this decision is a timely reminder that courts will look to the ‘ordinary and natural meaning’ of a provision even when documents were completed many years ago; the court referenced  Arnold v Britton [2015] in its judgment, a leading authority on interpretation.

The High Court allowed the appeal, finding that the easement did not fall within the 1974 headlease demise, such that rights therefore remained with the Phillimore Estate and were not capable of being passed onto current leaseholders of DBH.

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