• In the case of Crabb v Arun dc 1976 ch 179, it was found that a landowner who induces another to believe that a right of access will be given over the landowner’s land, may be estopped from denying such right where another has acted to their detriment in reliance of the assurance given.

Facts of the Case

  • The claimant and defendants owned adjoining areas of land with the northern boundaries adjoined to a public highway.
  • The defendants proposed to build a road along this boundary with the claimant’s land and the claimant was granted a right of access at a defined point from the northernmost position of his land to the roadway.
  • The claimant then wanted to sell his land in two lots and in negations with the defendants was assured that a gap would be left in a proposed boundary fence adjoining the southern portion of the claimant’s land and that there would be a right of access from such southern portion to the new road.
  • When the fence was erected, a gap was left at the agreed point.
  • In reliance to this assurance, the claimant sold the northern portion of his land without reserving any right of way to the public highway as a result, the only means of access from the southern portion to the public highway was via the agreed gap in the fence constructed by the defendants.
  • The defendants closed the gap in the fence and refused the claimants access to the road unless he paid £3000.
  • The claimant then sought a declaration that he was entitled to such right of access and an injunction to enforce that right.

Issues in Crabb v Arun dc 1976 ch 179

  • Could the promise be enforced with no contract. Can the defendants be estopped from denying the right of access.

Held by Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

  • Claim allowed

Lord Denning MR 

  • Here, it was held that for over a year, the defendants had not indicated their intention to resile from the agreement and as the claimant has acted to his detriment it would be unconscionable for the defendants to go back on this agreement.

Scarman LJ

  • “In the present case the court does have to consider what is necessary _, now in order to satisfy the plaintiff’s equity. Had matters taken a different turn, I would without hesitation have said that the plaintiff should be put upon terms to be agreed if possible with the defendants, and, if not agreed, settled by the court. But, as already mentioned by Lord Denning M.R. and Lawton L.J., there has been a history of delay, and indeed high-handedness, which it is impossible to disregard. In January 1969 the defendants, for reasons which no doubt they thought good at the time, D without consulting the plaintiff, locked up his land. They removed not only the padlocks which he had put on the gates at point B, but the gates themselves. In their place they put a fence—rendering access impossible  save by breaking down the fence. I am not disposed to consider whether or not the defendants are to be blamed in moral terms for what they did. I just do not know. But the effect of their action has been to sterilise the plaintiff’s land; and for the reasons which I have endeavoured to give, such action was an infringement of an equitable right possessed by the plaintiff. It has involved him in loss, which has not been measured; but, since it amounted to sterilisation of an industrial estate for a very considerable period of time, it must surpass any sort of sum of money which the plaintiff ought reasonably, before it was done, to have paid the defendants in order to obtain an enforceable legal right. I think there-  F fore that nothing should now be paid by the plaintiff and that he should receive at the hands of the court the belated protection of the equity that he has established. Reasonable terms, other than money payment, should be agreed: or, if not agreed, determined by the court. For those reasons I also would allow the appeal.” Pg 199