Estoppel arising from an agreement as to the layout of an internal access road on a development site

Valentine v Allen ([2002] EWCA Civ 915, CA (Eng)) concerned rights over the internal access road serving a small residential development and leading to the public highway. When the initial plan for gaining access to the highway was blocked, the then owners of the properties on the development had a meeting and adopted a new proposed route for the access road based on an agreed plan (‘the Plan’). Based on this, there were transfers of land between the owners and two deeds of grant were entered into. The deeds of grant reflected the Plan but the land transfers were made by reference to a different plan inconsistent with the Plan. The result was that, at law, some parts of the deeds of grant could not take effect since the grantors did not own the relevant land. V sought a declaration to the effect that to this extent the deeds of grant were ineffective. A counterclaimed that V was estopped from denying that the deeds of grant were effective. The counterclaim succeeded on the basis of proprietary estoppel. The assurance that everyone would have access rights based on the Plan was given at a site meeting. A and others had subsequently relied on it in several ways (laying out the road in accordance with the Plan and building walls and a garage in a position that reflected it). On this basis, A and the other owners were entitled to equitable easements that accorded with the Plan and the deeds of grant.

V appealed but the Court of Appeal upheld the decision at first instance. Chadwick LJ preferred to rely not on proprietary estoppel but on estoppel by convention. The terms of the deeds of grant made it clear that all of the owners intended to give effect to the Plan:

‘The parties having embarked on the development of their respective properties on the basis of this common assumption, they (and their successors in title) cannot be allowed to assert rights inconsistent with it in circumstances in which it would be unfair or unjust to do so.’ (para. 65).

The relevant circumstances were the building of walls and a garage and the building of the road in accordance with the common assumption. Hale LJ thought that both proprietary estoppel and estoppel by convention provided acceptable bases for upholding the first instance decision.

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