West Country solicitor Jonathan Cheal is a public rights of way specialist whose services are in demand across the country on a topic which can be a minefield for farmers and landowners alike. He’s also well known for his brightly coloured bow-ties.
Today he deals with the question: Who owns the verge outside my property?
There isn’t a straight forward answer. The extent of the highway is normally hedge-to-hedge. Lanes and rural roads often have wide grass verges but these are as much part of the highway as the Tarmac.
However, the interest of the highway authority is not usually the freehold but merely the surface and a sufficient depth to allow maintenance and control of obstruction.
If you have land or property next to the verge then you may hold the freehold interest in the subsoil of the verge subject to the right of the highway authority to maintain the surface and of the public to pass by.
You, as the frontager, will normally own the hedge and any tree growing in or inside the hedge will belong to you so if an overhanging branch falls you will normally be liable.
If the tree grows in the verge you might say it’s the highway authority’s liability but they may argue that the roots are in the subsoil so therefore you are liable.
The moral is that all landowners need to take great care.
As to whether the frontager really does own the freehold in the subsoil will depend on proof of title, although there is a common law presumption about owning up to the midway point, or all of it if you own land on both sides.
If you own the freehold in the verge, can you prevent the highway authority, or anyone else, such as a utility company, from installing signs or equipment in the verge?
The normal rule is that if the signs or equipment are only placed on the surface, and the highway authority gives its consent, there’s not much the landowner can do.
However, if the thing needs to be imbedded in the subsoil, then it will be a trespass on the freehold interest of the frontager who can object, notwithstanding the County Council’s consent.
This may also have practical ramifications : e g equipment put in the verge may impede the frontager’s access (present or future); or a sign advertising a different business (such as a rival farm-shop a mile up the road), may be extremely unwelcome.
Jonathan Cheal works with Mogers Drewett which has offices in Bath, Sherborne and Wells. He also regularly attends Market days at Frome Livestock Market.