Highway Ransom Strips - don't get caught out
A brief guide to ransom strips between the public highway and your site - how to check whether they exist and how to resolve any issues that arise.
Purchasers of land need to be alert to the existence of highway ransom strips, strips of land in third party ownership separating the publicly adopted highway from the site.
What are the implications if there is a ransom strip?
Issues arise if it is not possible to access the site directly from the highway without crossing over the strip. The strip owner could bring an action against the trespasser preventing use or development of the site until a solution is found. The ability to fund, sell or let the site is likely to be adversely affected.
How to establish if a strip exists?
(i) Searches - a Land Registry search should be carried out to ascertain who owns the land between the highway and the site. Any third party ownership or unregistered land should be revealed by the search.
(ii) Overlay - it is essential that overlay plans are prepared. The planning drawings, Land Registry title plan and result of the highways search should be overlaid to ensure that the site can be accessed directly from the highway.
(iii) Inspection - an inspection is always important to establish who controls the strip and how the strip is used. If a strip does not appear on a highways search but is being maintained as such (e.g. evidenced through yellow lines), further investigation may be required.
What if the Land Registry search is wrong?
The Land Registry searches are backed by a state guarantee so if an incorrect result is given then the site owner may have an action for loss suffered. However, any claim will not be simple and will require specialist advice. There may also be limits on the Land Registry's liability. As explained above, carrying out an overlay and also an inspection are useful ways to provide further clarification on whether a strip exists.
How to resolve any issues?
(i) Insurance - check whether insurance is available. It is important not to contact any potential owner of the strip as this could make it difficult to obtain insurance – or invalidate insurance you have obtained.
(ii) Payment of a ransom - If the owner is known, it may be possible to negotiate the grant of appropriate rights in return for a payment. However, the payment can be high. The owner of the ransom land will expect to receive a percentage of the profit arising from the development that is unlocked - sometimes in the region of one third of the profit, but depending on the facts.
(iii) Adverse Possession Claim - depending on the facts, the owner of the adjacent site may be able to claim adverse possession if they have been in exclusive occupation of the strip for some time. Typically, they would have controlled the strip for at least 10 years. A statutory declaration covering this period would be required. An adverse possession claim is not simple and will depend on available evidence and whether someone is available to provide a statutory declaration for the full period.
(iv) Prescriptive or public rights - private rights of way can be acquired by prescription through showing 20 years continued use as a right. Again this would depend on the facts and a statutory declaration covering this period would be required. Alternatively, if a way has been used openly by the public, public rights may have accrued.
In light of the potential cost and delay if a ransom strip is found, it is important to do thorough due diligence on this point before proceeding with an acquisition.
This article was written by Alexander Gold. For more information, please contact Alexander on +44 (0)20 7427 6436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.