As a landowner, your boundaries with roads define your responsibility. But are you sure you know where they are?
Whilst you’re probably well aware of the main boundaries of your land, the ownership of land alongside any roads running adjacent to it can be a grey area. Yet it matters, because you may be liable for ensuring maintenance of the land or perhaps could benefit from income if other people are using it for access.
In terms of maintenance, that might be dealing with potentially dangerous trees or encroaching vegetation, keeping drainage ditches in order and repairing banks eroded by vehicles using them to pass each other on a narrow lane.
On a positive note, the land adjoining the highway could be a ransom strip, where you’re entitled to charge a person for accessing their property over your land.
Where the highway ends and your land begins can be difficult to define, and landowners often make assumptions based on ‘ad medium filum’, which suggests they own all the land right up to the centre of the road. That could be true – to an extent. As a landowner, you might own the mineral rights to the land beneath the road, but if it’s a public right of way the Highways Authority will have control over the road surface and sub-surface, allowing them to maintain it effectively.
You may be liable for maintaining the land, but you could also earn income from it.
If the land has been compulsorily purchased, then the Highways Authority generally own it outright. Otherwise it can be hard to prove exactly where the highway boundary is. A wall or hedge running parallel to the road may constitute the boundary, meaning all the road and the land either side will be considered part of the highway. On the other hand, if the wall or hedge was there first and the road built subsequently, that land could be privately owned.
It’s worth remembering that many roads have existed for centuries, often long before the Enclosures Act which saw the land alongside them fenced off. This antiquity frequently means no documents exist to define the road boundaries, and they’re not marked on the land deeds.
Liaising with your local Highways Authority is worthwhile and researching country or parish council records may prove ownership. There may be a precedent established by other roads in the area. For example, the road verges might be regarded as manorial waste – land that belonged to a manor or estate but was never cultivated or let to tenants.
A definite answer
There’s also some useful guidance in the boundaries section of the HM Land Registry website. However, to avoid falling foul of any potential liabilities, we recommend you seek specialist legal advice.