"forceful". They argued that the sign had rendered use of the car park by anyone other than a club member contentious, and so the Winterburns were unable to meet the criteria for acquiring an easement by prescription.
The Tribunal was not persuaded that a "passive" sign addressed to no-one in particular was objection enough. There were other actions that the club could have taken, such as locking the gates to the car park, but it had chosen not to take them.
The Upper Tribunal also ruled that the dominant land had been "accommodated" for a period of over 20 years, which had started running at the point when the shop began to benefit from customers and suppliers using the car park for parking and access.
However, the owners of the car park had more success with their second ground of appeal when they argued that the prohibitory sign, addressed to everyone and thus including the shop's customers and suppliers, made it clear that parking on the car park by other than club members was objected to by the club.
The Upper Tribunal considered that a suitably worded notice was sufficient to render use of land in contravention of that notice contentious and thus not "as of right". The same principle applied here, where the sign was clear and unambiguous.
The Upper Tribunal found that it was irrelevant that the club's sign was not specifically directed at the Winterburns or their customers. Consequently, the Winterburns had not acquired any rights to park on the car park.
However, the Upper Tribunal dismissed the appeal so far as it related to pedestrian access, because the club's sign had restricted parking only. As a consequence, the Upper Tribunal found that a right of way across the car park by pedestrians had arisen after continuous usage in excess of 20 years by the shop's customers.
The ruling confirms that a well-worded sign should be enough to prevent rights being acquired over property.
An appeal of this decision to the Court of Appeal has been lodged – while an update is awaited bear in mind that the case confirms that landowners will still be protected by appropriate signage even where that signage is routinely ignored. The moral is to make sure any signs you erect to protect your land say precisely what you mean, with no ambiguity that can be exploited later to establish third party rights.