How wide is a right of way?

Posted: 26th April 2012

Five bar gateA recent dispute over the extent of a right of way over farmland in County Durham may be of interest to property owners, particularly of agricultural land.
Farming brothers Colin and John Oliver enjoyed a right of way over land formerly owned by their mother, which included the right to use a track for agricultural and other vehicles as well as on foot, a right which had been granted to allow the men access to their farmland.

The dispute arose over the erection by Mr and Mrs Symons, the present owners of the farmhouse previously occupied by the men’s mother, of a number of gates along the track. Matters became heated and there were allegations of pick-up trucks being driven at the gates and forced removal of locks.When the case came to court, it was fought on a number of points but, by the time that it reached the Court of Appeal, the pivotal issue was the extent of the right of way.

In the lower court the judge had found that the right of way was limited to the width of the track itself. It was argued by the Olivers that, whilst the wheel base of any agricultural vehicle using the track must remain within its width, there should be some tolerance for wide loads both in allowing additional ‘swing space’, so that the vehicles could manoeuvre through the gates, and ‘verge space’, where large vehicles using the track were bound to veer onto the grass verge.
The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the lower court that the right of way did not include any swing or verge space and was limited to the physical width of the track. However, the Olivers’ claims appear to have failed on a lack of evidence. It is therefore possible that in a future case rights of way may be construed as including swing and verge space if sufficient evidence is adduced to support those contentions.