Right of Access Dispute

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    Right of Access Dispute

    We have recently moved in to a property and between our house (an end terrace) and the opposite end terrace, there is an unadopted street, which has, over a number of years, provided access to the rear of properties in both our row and theirs. This street is not maintained other than at intervals a group of householders using the road for access/parking have had it gravelled to make it more passable. The owners of the other end terrace moved in a couple of months after we did last year. There is a field behind our houses, and its' owners also use the street in between our houses to access this land. They have recently started to use the field for business purposes, and have now applied to re-build an existing stable/storage block at the rear of our houses. They did speak to a couple of owners before putting in their application, explaining it was to replace the existing building like for like. However when the application has gone in, it seeks to increase the height of the building quite dramatically, and its' construction also appears to seek to make it more like a dwelling house than a storage block. We believe there is possibly an intention of applying for a change of use for this building if planning is granted. On examining the deeds of both our property and the neighbouring terrace, the plans show that both houses own some of the street but there is no mention of who owns the middle. The farmer using the road to access their field has apparently only done so in the last 20 years or so and they knocked down a portion of stone wall to install a gate to enable them to access their field from this point (there is other access at the top of the field which they do not seem to use). I have a couple of queries which I would be grateful of a view on before we decide whether it is worth engaging with a solicitor to help with this:
    - Are the farmers allowed to use the road between our houses for access now as they have been doing it unchallenged for some time?
    - Are they allowed to conduct a business from this land which will have some impact on the enjoyment of the surrounding residents (it is a dog walking business so will increase noise, and if the new building means they are intending to actually use it and store items there which they don't currently, there will be more traffic over the street)
    - Would we be legally allowed to block the access at the start of the road with a gate/bollards of or own, only allowing access to the properties who were intended to have access based on the wording of the original deeds
    Are there any other points I should be considering before taking to a professional? Many thanks :-)

    On examining the deeds of both our property and the neighbouring terrace, the plans show that both houses own some of the street but there is no mention of who owns the middle.
    Under English law long use of a road to access a property can create what is known as a prescriptive easement in favour of the property.

    Use has to be open, without force and without permission of the land-owner for a period in excess of 20 years.

    The owner of the property who intends to claim a prescriptive easement has to provide evidence to support such a claim, although the use will only be for the land as it was used during that 20 year period.

    i.e. if use was to access a field, or some stables, then that will be the type of use that can be continued if the period of prescription can be established.

    There is case law that prevented a landowner from continuing to use a prescriptive right of way when he erected a house on land previously used for agricultural purposes, so a prescriptive right of way can only continue to be used as long as the land-use is the same as it always was.

    There can also be a claim from the owner of the road that future use becomes excessive, if the use of the land results in an increased use of the road, as it was used when the 20 years period of prescription was being established.

    That can also be a claim when a legal right of way was granted for a specified purpose and traffic increases beyond what was being contemplated when the right of way was granted.

    You need to note that these aspects of land regarding rights of way are often very contentious and can become very expensive if legal action needs to be considered.


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