Unadopted road and parking

I live in an unadopted lane (short no through road, used to be a footpath), along with 3 other houses. We recently put up a sign saying "Church Lane, Private Road, No parking, No Turning space" because we have increasing problems over the years with parking. My wheelie bin was not collected twice, I worry about a house fire and the engine not getting through, also damage is done to property and verges by people turning in our drives where there is no room, and we have to pay for it to be fixed. A village resident is demanding we take the sign down and allow parking as 'people have parked here for years'. Where do we stand legally ? Unfortunately we have never blocked the Lane once a year to stop easement. But we ARE a cul-de-sac, so can't be considered a highway due to 'easement' issues.
15:02 Sun 30th Aug 2009
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When you say it USED to be a footpath, is it not still a footpath?
If so it is a public right of way, but on foot only (stating the blindingless obvious - but I'll get there in the end).
This means that no motor vehicles can go down there, unless one happens to be the owner of the land, or one has an easement from the landowner.
Some public footpaths (and bridleways) are positioned on land that is actually owned by someone; many are not - particularly the old ones that are historical anacronisms from a time gone by. The ones between fields with hedges each side are often like that.
So the issue is, who owns the land?
It is perfectly possible that no-one owns the land.
When the motor car came into use, many people living up footpaths and bridleways adapted to suit. Those that could get into their land did so, and in a time when people worried far less about 'rights' and 'suing', took cars up footpaths and bridleways. Having done that for 20 years without anyone complaining, those people were able to acquire an easement by prescription (using the Prescription Act 1832) for the right of passage by motor vehicle - even when the public right of way is a lower category of footpath/bridleway.
Having explained that, the issues for you are:
Who owns the land? - if someone who can be traced, you may be able to persude him to enforce access to his land.
Are you sure you have your own legal position tied down by the solicitor who helped you buy the house regarding your own right of access by vehicle - either via an easement written into your land title (if the owner exists) or by prescription?
You may be able to enlist the assistance of the Highways Dept at your county or unitary authority council. It is unlawful to take a motor vehicle more than 10 yards off the public carriageway without the permission of the landowner. Maybe they will erect 'official signs' But check out your right to get vehicular access first - you wouldn't want it backfiring.
Question Author
Thanks for your comments Buildersmate. The Lane still is a 'footpath', in as much as a metre of it down one side is still designated a 'footpath'. The Lane has been widened considerably over time and now vehicle access is easy. In effect, the whole lane is treated as a footpath, which is fine. But not for parking ! I have sent a message to Land Registry to ask how I find out the legal 'owner' of the Lane, as the deeds for each of the 4 houses only go as far as our individual boundaries.
OK, the LR will do a search for you based on the description of the location of the land you identify to them. It is my bet it will come back as no owner found. This is not unusual in this situation - it means one of two things:
1) the land is not registered but 'owned' by means of an obscure set of deeds tucked away somewhere
2) no-one actually claims ownership
If there is ownership, the most likely scenario is that it is owned by the same party that owns one of the 2 parcels of land that adjoins the short part of road.
You are correct that footpaths have to be a minimum of one metre (or it might be one yard) wide.
It sounds like you don't have an easement written into your land title. Have you either lived there 20 years, and/or did your solicitor obtain a sworn statement from the previous owner (when you bought) to confirm that they used the track for vehicular access for x years, these two periods adding up continuously to at least the last 20 years? Otherwise your own right of access by vehicle is at risk. There would be little point in fighting off this local resident if your own right of access is not secure legally. It might backfire if people start digging into it.
Question Author
No reply yet from Land Registry, but I understand there is something called 'presumptive ownership' (ie of the residents) if no owner is found ? We DO have a sworn statement in our huge pile of deeds and documentation (the house is a Thatched property over 300 years old). A previous owner back in the 60's had a legal document drawn up and signed, declaring that she and her family have used the lane for access of vehicles, animals etc for over 50 years. So that's OK.
OK, good about the sworn statement - but you understand why I was asking.
I don't know about presumptive ownership but will look into it, because I'm interested.
I have a similar situation (which I why I originally took the time and trouble to find out about these things) - I live on a public bridleway which led past a mill that ceased to function in about 1840. Yours presumably leads to the local church.
This is interesting.
http://www.duchyofcornwall.eu/latest/?page_id= 130
Since it comes from a 'reputable' source, I think it is pretty kosher.
It seems that we are not 'owners' of our own little plots - merely the registered keeper - until the Crown decides to change the rules of the game and claim it back again.
It is true that land (and other assets) owned by a company in liquidation revert back to the Crown.
I don't think there is any mileage in trying to claim presumption ownership. What do you know that is different?
Question Author
I agree about 'presumption ownership' - don't think it will go that far to be honest with you. This aggressive guy is one of a few people in the village who have that typical small-minded mentality based on 'something has changed, the sign shouldn't be there because it wasn't there before'. The main issue is that they want to park in the Lane, and don't see why they shouldn't. I don't think for one moment they are capable of thinking laterally from that one issue. I shall wait and see what Land Registry says, and also awaiting a response from the local council (highways department) regarding clarification of the road as 'private' and/or 'a public highway'. Even if it IS a 'public highway (doubtfull as it's a cul-de-sac and there's nowhere to go :-)) that doesn't mean people have the right to park there - just to pass over it......I think !
Go back to one of my earlier postings. To expand, public rights of way come in three shades - footpath, bridleway and carriageway. A motor vehicle can only go onto the carriageway. Cul-de-sac, whatever, doesn't enter into it. There are some public rights of way that are carriageways, however not adopted (maintained at public expense - by the council). That too is a separate issue.
A public carriageway comes about over time when several different members of the public have travelled over it by vehicle regularly for x years (can't remember x - it might be 10 years, I think.).
My suggestion about involving the Highways is because they are the guardians of the rights of way - there should be a local rights of way officer at the County Council (if you are indeed in Wiltshire). They maintain the definitive map which the master document which shows all (non-carrigeway) public rights of way. They, one would hope, would be interested in maintaining the status quo.
Question Author
This is very interesting - one of those 'minefield' situations that seems to be open to all sorts of interpretation. Church Lane doesn't actually lead to the Church - it runs round the back of the Church - it just leads to the rest of the footpath, which is the traditional 3 feet wide and leads down into woodland. The four houses are all in the widened section of the Lane, with the narrow footpath starting at the end of the cul-de-sac. Incidentally, here's a link to some info which specifically talks about 'cul-de-sacs' and 'highways'.
What happened to the link?
A cul-de-sac is merely a road that doesn't lead anywhere. There are plenty of public carriageways that are cul-de-sacs.
There are also plenty of public rights of way that change their status part of the way along them. Got one close to me - its classified as a byway for the first 400 metres or so - then becomes a 'bridleway' further along. Byways are open to all traffic, though I'm not sure I can explain the legal difference between the public carriageway and a byway.
Question Author
Dunno what happened to link - probably me having finger trouble. Here it is :
Have checked several maps/plans, including OS, and this lane is shown clearly as a footpath throughout. Bridlepaths are shown with a different 'dotted line' and it isn't one.
Are you still pursuing a dispute, or have you resolved it ?

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