Q&A: Why does your client need a Highways Search?

Ransom strip causes headaches for property developers in Essex, amid 5 years of legal wrangling. Image source: Daily Mail | Copyright Cascade News

Q&A: Why does your client need a Highways Search?

The simple answer is that highways can be really complicated. There are lots of potential pitfalls out there to trip people up. For starters, there is the General Boundary Rule, and then the Council of Mortgage Lenders Handbook (CML) have expectations that, in addition to ‘usual and necessary searches’, the ‘boundary must be clearly defined.’ It doesn’t stop there, but these two do present solicitors with complications that need to be resolved.

Q&A: What if I don’t order one – what are the risks to my client?

Put simply, imagine that you have bought a property but you can’t access it or have to pay extra to buy another piece of land in order to access it. Far from ideal for many reasons.

We’ve all probably heard about homeowners who cannot access their home because of a ransom strip and the lengthy problems that they can cause, but imagine just how catastrophic this could be for a developer or for a commercial transaction.

Q&A: Are there any cases in which a Highways search would have been useful?

There are a few well-known cases which relate to highways, and the most famous or often cited cases are:

1. Stokes and Cambridge (1961) which established the value of ransom strips at 1/3 of the value they create; and

2. Gooden vs Northamptonshire CC (2001) where a developer had to redesign the layout of the estate as access to a certain road was denied.

There are plenty of others, but I will leave it there.

Q&A: Does the Highways search do anything else?

Aside from answering the questions, it also gives you certainty about access, or time to resolve any issues that may be highlighted. For these reasons, it is always best to conduct the search at the start of the transaction when all the other searches are ordered.

For example, you might need to get defective title insurance or negotiate a right of way with the person who owns the land between your plot and the highway, and all of this can take time, so it makes sense to give yourself as much time as possible to do this.

Q&A: Who provides highways searches?

As with the majority of searches on tmconvey and tmconnect, there are a variety of products to choose from, so here is a quick summary of the highways searches currently available:

• Local Authority highways enquiry (HighwaysLA)

The ‘Local Authority highways enquiry’ raises the following questions. Please note, the search result will depend on the information provided by the relevant Local Authority.

1. Can you confirm that the Property immediately abuts onto a publicly maintainable highway and there is no intervening land between the Property and the public highway (if there is, is it within the Property’s ownership and what is its status?)

2. Are there any road improvements or widening schemes in the area or any road closure orders affecting roads around the property.

3. Can you confirm that there are no public footpaths on or over the property?

4. Is there any information available regarding any future improvements or developments which may affect traffic flow around the land in question?

• Local Authority Highways Lite (HighwaysRA)

A less comprehensive alternative to the ‘Local Authority highways enquiry’, only 2 questions are raised in the ‘Local Authority Highways Lite’ search. Please note, the search result will depend on the information provided by the relevant Local Authority.

1. A copy of your highway records showing which roads are maintained at public expense and which are not?

2. A copy of your plan showing the extent of the highways and adopted roads in relation to the property and the plan submitted to you?

• Highway search standard with opinion Commercial (PVHwayOC) 

This search asks the same questions as ‘Local Authority highways enquiry’ – as seen above. In addition, with a green, amber, red professional opinion based on the local authority responses in proximity to the property, so potential issues can be quickly identified within the report.

• Highway search standard with opinion Residential (PVHwayOR)

This search asks the same questions as ‘Local Authority highways enquiry’ – as seen above. In addition, with a green, amber, red professional opinion based on the local authority responses in proximity to the property, so potential issues can be quickly identified within the report.

• Argyll Site Solutions Highways Report

Designed for residential and commercial conveyancing transactions – up to 15 hectares – the Argyll Site Solutions Highways Report provides information relating to:

• Road Adoption Status

• Footpath Adoption Status

• Verge Adoption Status

• Traffic Schemes & Orders

• Scheduled Roadworks

• Existing Rights of Way

• Proposed or Amended

• Rights of Way

You can see a sample report here and read more about the report here.

Q&A: How can I order a highways report?

All of the above-mentioned searches are available to order on tmconvey and tmconnect.

In the first instance, you can also take a quick look on tm’s mapping data layers to flag any potential issues while waiting for the results to be returned, which can better help manage client expectations in advance, as Penelope Meadows, Solicitor, LSC Finance Ltd comments (November 2020):

“tm’s data layers are amazing! Whilst we appreciate that a full highways search is always advisable, being able to check the highways layer and see at first glance whether there may be any issues in this regard allows you to manage your clients expectations at a much earlier stage of the transaction.”

For more information please get in touch with your Client Relationship Manager or our Client Services team on 0800 840 5571 or email helpdesk@tmgroup.co.uk