Bizarre Colchester Drone Policy

Was checking on the Colchester drone policy and came across this:
https://www.colchester.gov.uk/info/cbc-article/?catid=latest-news-June-2019&id=KA-02676

As well as the amusingly up to date line “In January 2010 the CivilAviationAuthority (CAA) introduced new regulations…”

It has this bizarre notice.

"If person/persons are found to be using a drone device from Colchester Borough Council land without a letter of permission they will be instructed to stop immediately. If the user refuses to stop,the Police will be called to attend to cease activity and remove the user from Colchester Borough Council land and subsequent action may be taken under council by laws where these apply.

In circumstances where bylaws do not apply security accredited council staff or private security officers will be called to attend to cease activity and remove the user."

So if what you’re doing is illegal then police will be called. Fair enough (unless the police have better things to do).
But this appears to be saying that if what you’re doing isn’t illegal (ie there’s no bylaw against it) they’ll remove you anyway using private security?

How is that a legitimate thing for a council to do, let alone advertise?!

It’s their land, not yours. If they don’t want you on their land, you are trespassing, and they have a right to evict you.

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"Hi, mayor of Colchester, can I fly my drone for fun?"

“No. It’s disturbing people and wildlife”

"Hi, mayor of Colchester, there is a drone flying and it’s bothering me and the wildlife in the park"

“They asked permission and paid me wedge of cash. We also checked with the surrounding wildlife, who said they were ok with it. So get lost”

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With private land that is of course true.

But this is public land and so surely a council can’t arbitrarily exclude certain people even if they own it.

For instance supposing someone was unpopular with the council because they criticized it in public. It would be totally wrong for the council to get revenge by banning them from council parks.

Of course it’s quite right that a council should have the power to restrict activities on its land - and the mechanism for doing that is via the law: bylaws, PSPOs etc

But this policy seems to say they can prohibit someone from carrying out a lawful activity without any such mechanism - simply because someone (it’s not clear who) has said so.

This would be a very dangerous precedent.

At least that’s what I would have thought but I’m no lawyer.

It isn’t. It’s private land that the council owns. They say quite clearly that their policy applies only to “Colchester Borough Council Land”.

I spent some time a while back trying to find anything legal that gives the public the right of access to parks owned by their council, and had no luck (but maybe someone can do better!)

This is why, for example, many parks can be closed at night: it’s private land, and the council can choose when to open it. More importantly, it’s why travellers who set up camp in your local park can be kicked out - the council has no obligation to let them stay. It’s also why some cash-strapped councils have looked at selling parts of their parks to developers: it’s their land, there’s nothing stopping them other than public pressure (or sometimes there are restrictive covenants in the title deeds).

Bye-laws and PSPOs turn it into a criminal matter, but any landowner has the right to remove trespassers.

I’m sure there are obligations on councils to exercise their rights as a landowner fairly, and I’d be keen to hear more if somebody does find them, especially as I routinely fly from my local council’s land in breach of their drone policy!

I’m not quite sure what your definition of public land is then.
All land in the UK is owned by some person or legal entity.
If the owner is a private company or individual then it’s private land.
If it’s owned by the government (national or local) then that’s what I mean by public land.

Of course - not all public land has public access - I can’t walk into the garden of number 10. But being owned by an organ of the state confers different status on that land.

I’m not denying that the a council can restrict access to its land. Of course it can.
But that restriction has to be done through legal means.

You give examples of closing times and traveler eviction - but both of those will be based on the bylaws. I just checked my local park bylaws and it specifies exactly the opening times.

I imagine all parks have bylaws specifying either closing times or no overnight stays. I don’t believe that anyone (traveler or not) could be evicted unless they were contravening a law.

We really would be in an orwellian world if a council could simply decide some class of person was unwelcome on its land simple by virtue of stating so on its website.

You can evict travellers from “public” private land without any byelaws being in place - I’ve seen precisely that happen from my local park, where there are no byelaws. Lots of parks have no byelaws. Eviction is as a trespasser: the council apply for an injunction, and employ bailiffs to enforce it, the same as with any civil trespass case.

However, you made me do some more digging and I found this case, which is interesting as it was specifically about “a public park, in which members of the public flew noisy model aircraft”.

That case is interesting on two grounds:

  • the court found that the council could not be liable for nuisance caused by people flying model aircraft in a park - interesting because the risk of liability is often what councils mention when coming up with these policies
  • the judgement also found that the council could not ban members of the public except by byelaws so long as people “behave … in the ordinary way”

So long as a member of the public behaves himself in the ordinary way, committing no criminal offence and observing the by-laws, the corporation cannot stop his doing what he likes in this recreation ground . . I think that the corporation are the trustees and guardians of the park, and that they are bound to admit to it any citizen who wishes to enter it within the times when it is open.

That supports what you’re saying: the park is private land but is has special status by virtue of the law under which it was acquired (Public Health Act 1875, Open Spaces Act 1906 etc). In the absence of any bye-laws, that would mean you can’t be evicted as a trespasser if you are using the park for the purposes set out in that legislation (e.g. if the park was acquired under s.9 of the Open Spaces Act, it can be used for “enjoyment thereof by the public as an open space”).

So:

  • I think you are broadly right
  • but I would not be inclined to push it with my own council, as it will just make them more likely to put proper byelaws or a PSPO in place

Councils are servants. We OWN them!! 🥸

And pay them

I was always under the impression you can’t be trespassed from public land but apparently I’m wrong!.

From Mylawyer.com

Trespass is the wrong (known as a tort in legal terminology) of illegally entering another person’s property. In some cases, the act of entering the property may have been lawful if permission was given originally, but subsequently become trespass if that permission ends or is withdrawn. The word trespass covers much more than people usually realise. All land in the UK belongs to someone. If you go on to land without the owner’s permission, you are trespassing unless there is some right of access for the public, or for you specifically (for example, if you have acquired a right to pass over the land to reach some land of your own). An example of this would be the person who has a ticket to attend a performance, enters the theatre and then, having caused a disturbance, refuses to leave the premises.

People in a park will often protest (if asked to leave) that it is public land. This does not mean that they have a right to be on it at all times - they do not. If the place closes at a certain time and someone is present after that time, they can then be considered to be trespassing. If a visitor misbehaves at any time and refuses to leave when asked to do so by someone with a right to do so (usually the landowner or a representative) then the visitor becomes a trespasser because they no longer have the landowner’s permission to be there, even if they entered legally.

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This is unheard of!
A discussion on the internet that’s resolved through actual research and evidence rather than abuse!!

I take my hat off to you sir.

That case is a a good find.

As you say - it’s largely moot anyway since a determined council can always just pass laws to restrict drone use (as many have done). But at least there’s a legal principle that they have to do something. Hopefully that means they can be held to account and asked to justify that restriction.

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Result!

Response pending: Legal basis for prohibiting drones overflying council land - a Freedom of Information request to Colchester Borough Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

Interesting. And I also found this FOI request:

The key line:
Can you please advise if you have any byelaws relating to the use off UAVs
(Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) from your land, and if so can you please either
provide a copy or the link to their location on a website.

Colchester Borough Council does not have any Byelaws relating to use of UAV’s in
Colchester.
Our Policy has NOT been reviewed with respect to the CAA CAP722C at this time due to the limited time and resources available.

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Yeah - that’s why we do own them. You pays yer money!!

Very interesting. They are on record as saying all UAV/drone use is forbidden on ALL council owned land.

Makes me think that perhaps, like others, they are relying on just merely putting the word out there in various forms and relying on peoples ignorance knowing full well they have no legal standing with which to back it up.

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