An issue of some breadth

Arguments between adjoining landowners continue to result in cases before the courts, and this is especially the case where neighbouring owners may hold different views as to what their property should be used for.  A recent case highlights the tension which can arise when rural land is used for residential purposes in close proximity to active farming. 

The Court of Appeal’s judgment in Oliver v. Symons considered the practical issue of whether a private right of way over a farm road included an element of manoeuvring space and verge space which would enable large loads to use it.  The farmer involved in the case said that the right of way granted to him should be widely interpreted so that the right of way was properly understood in the context of the commercial purpose of enabling agricultural machinery to access the farmer’s fields. 

The Court of Appeal was not prepared to construe the grant of the right of way in this context.  In particular, the Court was opposed to an argument that the right of way should include room for manoeuvring for bulky machinery.  The Court acknowledged that there might be potential for such “swing space”, but that would require there to be good evidence that if such additional room was not available then the right of way could not be used for its intended purpose. 

The Court ruled that, if evidence could be produced to identify specific areas where use of the verge adjoining the track was required then, if it was obvious at the time of the grant that in certain situations a vehicle would need to swing out onto the verge then that would be allowed.

Unfortunately, the farmer involved in this case could not provide the Court with satisfactory evidence on the above points, and his attempt to broaden the right of way was unsuccessful.  It is therefore clear that a person who is to be granted a right of way for agricultural purposes must consider the precise dimensions of the track at ground level and the possible need to have additional areas when swinging around corners, to permit the passage of vehicles which may have their wheel base on the track itself but which need a wider area round the track to manoeuvre. 

This case led to the judges who heard it to urge those about to embark on litigation in similar circumstances to consider the merits of employing an experienced mediator who might be able to reach a fair and sensible compromise between the parties.  This is perhaps not surprising when one learns that the farmer seeking to use the right of way had spent in excess of £150,000 on the case.

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