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Crabb v Arun District Council [1976] Ch 179 Court of Appeal

A Mr Alford owned a 5 ½ acre plot of land, two acres of which had been developed with industrial buildings, the other three and a half acres was undeveloped. Mr Alford died. His executors obtained planning permission for the erection of houses on the undeveloped portion and the land was then sold onto the defendant District Council. The two-acre plot was sold to Mr Crabb, the claimant. The development necessitated the construction of a new road and as part of the sale, Mr Crabb was granted a right of way on the road and an access point to his land. Also as part of the sale, the Council were to erect a fence 5 ft 6in high along the boundary of the two plots and leaving the access point. After the sale had gone through, but before the erection of the fence, Mr Crabb decided he wished to divide his plot in two and sell half. For this he would need another access point and approached the council. The council informally agreed to a second access point and when they erected the fence they left two access points with gates at each. Mr Crabb then sold half the land which had the formal access point and retained for himself the portion of land that had the informal access point. He did not reserve any right of way on the land he sold. He then had a disagreement with the Council. The council pulled down the gate and erected a fence at the access point leaving Mr Crabb’s land with no access. They then asked for £3,000 to grant him access. Mr Crabb claimed that he had a right of access arising through proprietary estoppel.


Mr Crabb was entitled to an easement granting right of access arising through an estoppel. He was not required to pay for it.

Scarman LJ on the principles to be applied for proprietary estoppel:

"First, is there an equity established? Secondly, what is the extent of the equity, if one is established? And, thirdly, what is the relief appropriate to satisfy the equity?"

Lord Denning MR:

“Here equity is displayed at its most flexible. If the matter had been finally settled in 1967, I should have thought that, although nothing was said at the meeting in July 1967, nevertheless it would be quite reasonable for the Council to ask Mr. Crabb to pay something for the access at point B, perhaps - and I am guessing - some hundreds of pounds. But, as Mr. Millett pointed out in the course of the argument, because of the Council's conduct, the back land has been landlocked. It has been sterile and rendered useless for five or six years: and Mr. Crabb has been unable to deal with it during that time. This loss to him can be taken into account. And at the present time, it seems to me that, in order to satisfy the equity, Mr. Crabb should have the right of access at point B free of charge without paying anything for it. I would, therefore, hold that Mr. Crabb, as the owner of the back portion, has a right of access at point B over the verge on to Mill Park Road and a right of way along that road to Hook Lane without paying compensation. I would allow the appeal and declare that he has an easement, accordingly.

Back to lecture outline on proprietary estoppel in land law