Ely Market Place has no legal owner, East Cambs Council reveals as it launches bid for ‘possession’

Ely's Market Place

Ely's Market Place - Credit: Archant

It is one of Ely’s most iconic and important public spaces – but nobody knows who owns it.

The Market Place is the central hub of the city and plays host to dozens of Ely’s most important events of the year – including the Christmas lights switch-on, Remembrance service and dozens of markets.

Despite being used by tens of thousands of people every year, the ownership of the space is apparently unknown – with East Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council and the Church Commissioners unable to shed any light.

Now, in a bid to settle its fate once and for all, the district council is to pursue ‘adverse possession’ of the Market Place – whereby it will attempt to prove that it should be the rightful owner.

The issue was brought to light in January, at a meeting of the district council’s development and transport committee.


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Sally Bonnet, the district council’s infrastructure and projects officer, told councillors: “The land known as Market Place is currently unregistered and therefore no legal owner is registered at Land Registry.

“As the county council maintains the highway, it was contacted to establish whether it owned the Market Place. It has confirmed that it does not.

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“There was some documentary evidence to suggest that the district council may have been transferred ownership of the Market Place when the rights to the markets were purchased from the Church Commissioners in the 1950s, however there is no surviving evidence to show this conclusively.”

In response to advice from the district council’s legal advisors, councillors voted to pursue adverse possession of the space. But Ms Bonnett warned them that the process was “not straightforward” and was not guaranteed to be successful.

As part of the process, the district council will have to prove to the Land Registry that it has been undertaking works on the square for at least the last 12 years.

A decision is expected later this year.

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