Farmer acquires ownership of greenfield site from Topplan Estates after his cows "squat" on land for 20 years.

A farmer who has grazed his cows for 20 years on a plot of land now owned – but unused – by developer Topplan Estates has had his claim for squatter’s rights upheld in the Appeal Court. The developer, which bought the plot in 1992, will now have to pay for the 13-acres for a second time if it wishes to go ahead with a proposed 535-home greenfield development on the Lancashire site.

Lord Justice Jonathan Parker rejected claims by Topplan that David Townley, whose family have farmed in the area for 40 years, had been ‘lying low’ to acquire the rights. He said: “The activities of the squatter on the land must have been open and apparent to anyone who had eyes to see.”

Townley originally rented the land from the then-owners J E Lesser in 1982. Although he had stopped paying rent soon after, he has maintained the fields, and had installed fences and padlocks to keep trespassers out. Last year planning permission for a housing development on the site was refused, but another application may be made in the future.