High Court judgment finds in favour of PD Ports
The main issues at stake in a case brought by South Tees Development Corporation have come down in favour of the port operator, establishing its continued rights of access across the Teesworks site.
In a verdict handed down on 5 February, Mr Justice Rajah found in favour of PD Ports on six of the 18 matters under consideration.
STDC’s case was supported by Teesworks Ltd, which was also a party to the claim – STDC is a shareholder in Teesworks.
The judgment found in favour of PD Ports having rights of access in the three key areas of contention, including to South Gare.
As set out in the ruling, PD Ports is the statutory harbour authority for the River Tees, and owner and operator of the port of Teesport, one of the UK’s major ports.
PD owns the land where the port is situated, and also owns Redcar Quay and assets including the breakwater and lighthouse at South Gare.
It also owns a strip of land bordering the Smith’s Dock Road, an area that has been at the centre of tensions between the parties in recent years due to the siting of a roundabout, another issue considered here.
STDC was set up in 2017 to oversee the regeneration of the former Redcar steelworks, which it has been doing in a series of projects widely reported. The organisation made the contention that PD should not have access rights across its landholdings, mostly relating to three areas: South Gare, Redcar Quay and South Bank.
In the case of South Gare – accessible by a single road – PD claimed rights of access through various conveyances dating back to 1891. At Redcar Quay, where the Redcar Bulk Terminal sits, it claimed access rights through a 19712 conveyance, a 1995 consent, or by necessity under common law.
For the secondary Smith’s Bridge Road, it claimed rights through prescription under the common law arising from long user for general purposes, and separately for emergency access and egress when Tees Dock Road cannot be used.
All of this was questioned on various grounds by the STDC parties – one point questioned being that any permissions pertained to PD Ports’ predecessor body alone – and a six-week trial started in October, in London.
Senior people from both sides gave evidence, with the judge recording that “all were honest, but partisan”. A ruling over costs will be made at a future date.
Jerry Hopkinson, executive chairman of PD Ports, said: “The outcome of today’s ruling, which has seen PD Ports secure ongoing rights of access to South Gare and Redcar Bulk Terminal, and a right of access from Tees Dock across South Bank is a vindication of our defence of our long-held rights and the weight of evidence in our favour.
“Whilst we are naturally pleased at the outcome, we are very disappointed that this legal action was ever considered necessary by the South Tees Development Corporation and Teesworks.
“Despite PD Ports’ desire to resolve the matter outside the courtroom, South Tees Development Corporation and Teesworks persisted with legal action that has resulted in no net gain for either side, at a cost of several million pounds for all parties, including the taxpayer, as well as considerable damage to our region’s reputation.”
PD Ports chief executive Frans Calje said: “From the outset PD Ports has tried to assist the South Tees Development Corporation’s aims for development over its land while protecting our historically held rights at no cost to STDC.
“This is consistent with PD Ports’ role as the Statutory Harbour Authority for the River Tees. As the judgment notes the Victorian predecessor of PD Ports served the local community reclaiming land for industrial use in the 1800s, and we are firmly committed to continue working with partners and stakeholders across the region in the present day to drive investment, create high-quality jobs and support efforts to improve social mobility and the welfare of our communities.”
Hopkinson concluded: “Since the 19th Century PD Ports and its direct predecessors have built a foundation for the industrial development that has provided opportunity, jobs and prospect along the River Tees and in the wider North East of the UK. We will now move on, with this unnecessary distraction behind us, and look to the future, working with partners across Teesside and beyond, for the good of the Tees Valley and its people.”
PD Teesport was represented by DWF. Forsters acted for STDC and Taylor Wessing for Teesworks.
STDC was approached for comment.