You may have noticed a large roadside verge that looks as though it is not needed. Maybe it is overgrown and obscures the road. If it adjoins your property, you might be particularly interested in trying to acquire it. However, there are some things you will need to consider in acquiring highway land.
Who does it belong to?
Just because land is unloved, it probably still has an owner. Your solicitor will easily be able to find out who this is in most cases. Occasionally, land is unregistered, and that makes finding the owner trickier, but you should not assume that the land has no owner.
In relation to highway land, there is a legal presumption known as ‘ad medium filum’ which provides that in the absence of contradictory evidence, it can be assumed that the owners of the land adjoining a highway are also the owners of the highway itself, up to the centre line of the roadway serving their property. This presumption is ‘rebuttable’, meaning it can be disproved, and shouldn’t be relied on as an easy way to claim ownership. Your solicitor can look into this for you.
If the land is owned by a third party, you could approach them about a possible sale. If the land is owned by the highways authority, there are some specific steps you can take, which will be the focus of this article.
Short Term Steps
If the land is designated as highway land, you will first need to apply for removal of the highway rights from the land (known as “stopping up” highway rights). This is planning permission and will legally convert the status of the land from public to private land. There are two options:
- Section 116 Highways Act 1980 application – this removes the highway rights and may take 6 months or longer.
- Section 247 Town & Country Planning Act application – this is a planning application made to the National Transport Casework Team. This will remove the highway rights, once physical changes provided for in the planning permission are made. The application can take around 13 weeks, provided there are no objections.
In both cases, these applications would trigger a ‘Highway Need Assessment’ where the planning authority will consult on whether the land is still necessary for highway purposes. The decision reached will remain valid for only 12 months. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on things to consider if you decide to make a section 247 planning application.
Alternatively to planning permission, in Leicestershire, there is a provision to apply to the local Highways Authority (Leicestershire County Council) for a licence under section 142 Highways Act 1980. This allows you to manage the land, but you will not own it. Again, your solicitor can advise on what is most appropriate, depending on your requirements.
Longer Term Steps
Once highway rights are stopped, full control of the land vests back in the legal owner as private land. If you haven’t been able to find out who the owner is, you could look at gaining adverse possession. This is beyond the scope of this particular article, but BHW Solicitors are able to advise on this.
There is also legal procedure available to Leicestershire County Council under which they are able to vest ownership of former highway land in a third party under s11 of the Leicestershire Act 1985. This can be used where no owner can be determined after exhaustive investigation. It is worth noting that this could involve considerable expense, since this route requires a Court application.
These are general points, and not a substitute for legal advice. If you are interested in any of the steps above, please contact BHW Solicitors Commercial Property team on 0116 289 7000 who will be able to point you in the right direction.