Are your car park signs good enough?

Tuesday 31st May 2016

Court of Appeal decides that visible signage can prevent unauthorised parking by a local Yorkshire chippy becoming a legal right

Any landowner with an easily accessible “Customers Only” or “Patrons Only” car park will not always know whether every car parked there belongs to a customer or a patron. Even if you know about unlawful parking, do you have to go to court to prevent trespassers becoming entitled to park?  Do you have to introduce more stringent security?

The Court of Appeal has answered this question with a resounding “no” (Winterburn v Bennett [2016] EWCA Civ).

The case has a distinctly Yorkshire flavour, as it is all about a fish and chip shop in Keighley. Customers and suppliers of the chippy had been parking in an adjacent car park for over 20 years.  The car park didn’t belong to the chippy though; instead it was owned by the local Conservative Club and the Club had put up a clearly visible sign saying: “Private car park. For the use of Club patrons only.

In order to convert 20 years’ use into a legal right, the use has to be “without force, without secrecy and without permission”. Clearly the chippy did not have permission to use the Club’s car park and it was not being secretive about using it.

Had the car park been used with force though? You might think that just driving into a car park is not exactly forceful, but the Court of Appeal addressed whether parking on private land in contravention of a clearly visible sign could be interpreted as a kind of “force”.

The Court of Appeal decided that the presence of a clear and visible sign was enough for the chippy’s use of the car park to be forceful and therefore no legal right was acquired.  The judge emphasised that a land owner should not have to go to court to prevent wrongful users of land from acquiring rights.

Practical points:

  • If you own a car park, which may be susceptible to unauthorised parking, make sure your signage is clear and easily visible. This should protect you against any unlawful users acquiring rights. Are your signs in the right place and are there enough of them?
  • Other measures can control use of car parks where unauthorised use is affecting trade, such as automatic number plate recognition or ticketed barriers.
  • Clear signage is also very important if you are charging for parking or imposing fines/penalties for unlawful use. If the signs cannot be seen, penalties may be unlawful.

If you would like to discuss any points in relation to car parking or unauthorised use of land and for further information please contact Richard Cressall on 0113 227 0237 or at