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

Why Highways? – What’s wrong with a SIM or local search?
Ah, a good question as sometimes the pain isn’t always recognised, it is just put up with.

Whilst it’s standard practice to order a local search or SIM (Search of Index Map) to check the property boundary, the problem with the local search is that it will tell you which roads are adopted but it won’t tell you if your client can actually access their property from the road, if for example a ransom strip exists.

Likewise, the SIM search plan is not detailed enough to show you the nooks and crannies where access problems can lurk – there’s your problem and that’s why you need something more robust and comprehensive.

Are Highways really that complicated?
Simple answer is: Yes, they can be.

There are lots of potential pitfalls out there to trip people up. For starters there is the General Boundary Rule, and then the 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.

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.

Have a read of this dispute over luxury flats in Essex, in which the new owners of apartments (worth up to £1M) were left unable to park in the complex due to a 6 inch-wide strip of land that denied them access.

How happy would my or any client be if this happened to them?
Clearly, not very – just think about the time and money this could cost your client to resolve it.

So what do the searches consist of?
When making enquiries of the County Council and Local Authority, there are two different reports available to the market.

One is called ‘Lite’, and the other ‘Standard’; both return standardised search results to the conveyancer’s desktop. ‘Lite’ lets you know whether there’s any intervening land between the Highway and your client’s property, making it a good fit for residential cases whereas the more meticulous ‘Standard’ is more suitable for commercial cases as it seeks to uncover further hidden complexities. Take a look at some sample reports from PlanVal for further information.

Haven’t I heard of Highways searches before?
The Highways search has suffered in the past from a poor reputation as they were difficult to get hold of, didn’t have a published price, didn’t have a set format and you didn’t know when you would get it back. In this way, they didn’t sit well alongside the standard searches you’d normally order.

This new service from PlanVal addresses all of these points so at last the Highways search is accessible, easy to order and in a format that you can work with every time.

Are there any cases in which a Highways search would have been useful?
There are a few well known cases which relate to highways. Without sounding like a lecturer, 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!

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.

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.

How can I order them?
Direct through your TM account for both residential and commercial transactions. Just tick the box, attach your plan and send. 

When you place the order you will know the questions you’re asking, how long it will take, what it will cost and what you will get back. Just like all the other searches in the transaction.

Who provides them?
PlanVal were established specifically to act as an industry hub for Highways searches. The people behind the service have been working in the search and conveyancing industry for over ten years, have been supplying Highways searches since 2011 and work with every Local Authority and County Council in England and Wales, so it’s fair to say they know their stuff!

Contact our sales team today on 0844 249 9200 to discuss how TM Group can help you mitigate risk and work more efficiently in property transactions.

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