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Can't work out who owns a small strip of land at front of our property...

(31 Posts)
clevername Tue 21-Mar-17 20:31:47

Hi all

Hoping someone might have an idea about how to get to the bottom of this problem...

We recently bought a property at auction that will require planning permission for change of use (it is a former chapel) to convert it into a house. The property is currently 'land locked' apart from a foot path and we're hoping to get access for a drive onto the road.

Thing is, there is a small strip of land about 6 foot wide that runs along the front of the property that isn't ours and we can't figure out who it belongs to! We've tried land registry, parish, local and county councils (including the highways division) and everything draws a blank.

The land is regularly mown (by the parish council), has a bus stop, bench and a couple of BT Open Reach boxes on it so it so it definitely looks like 'community' land (rather than privately owned). We could be wrong about this (it's feasible it's a ransom strip) but the lack of land registry info/local knowledge (it's in the kind of village in which people know a lot about each other!) is baffling. I'm beginning to think the land doesn't actually belong to anyone...

Anyway - does anyone have any advice about how to proceed? Are there any avenues we haven't explored? What if the land doesn't actually have an owner?! How would we then prove that and 'claim' the bit we need for our driveway?

Obviously our local council won't let us put in the application without permission from the land owner (assuming, of course, there is one). Aside from applying for planning without the access (which we don't really want to do at the moment), or just going ahead and making a 'site' access anyway (as a few people have advised!) we're stuck.

Thanks for any help/advice you can offer.

bkgirl Tue 21-Mar-17 20:34:08

If it has been used for over 12 years by the community is it not regarded like a right of way?

Collaborate Tue 21-Mar-17 20:40:07

It will be part of the highway.

Rshard Tue 21-Mar-17 20:43:53

It sounds like a service strip to me as it has statutory undertakers equipment etc on it. But I'd expect the local highways team to be able to tell you that.

As the property was or is a chapel, xouldnit still be something to do with the church? Could you contact the local diocese or similar?

Was there nothing on the deeds?

clevername Tue 21-Mar-17 21:02:13

Not a part of the highway, no - we just had the results of the search our county council highways team did for us (at a cost of about £100...). We're really gutted because we were pinning our hopes on this, and we were pretty convinced it would come back saying it was theirs.

The property hasn't been a chapel for ages (sorry, probably should have made this a bit clearer). It's been owned by a local charitable Trust for the last 20 years or so and has been used as a venue for various community-based projects until its sale. We did contact the various Baptist organisations for information about the building for another reason to do with planning but they couldn't tell us much at all - they had virtually no records of it. The Trust from which we bought the place have been equally unable to help us.

I'm not sure if it's a right of way. There's no reason to 'cross' it, as such - it runs along the front of our land. Although I see what you mean in that people will walk on it to access bench/bus stop. But wouldn't that place it under council (county or parish)/highways? And if it doesn't, then who would be considered the 'owner'? And if no one, then how do we then proceed? Hmmmmm...

Meant to mention in my OP that we've also contacted the bus company and Open Reach to see if they know who owns it but no joy.

clevername Tue 21-Mar-17 21:03:07

It's such a mystery. I would almost be enjoying all this sleuthing if it wasn't so bloody important and annoying!

clevername Tue 21-Mar-17 21:04:23

Sorry, forgot to answer the deeds question. We haven't actually seen them yet but are planning on contacting the solicitors tomorrow.

I doubt there will be much on there, tbh.

Itwasthenandstillis Tue 21-Mar-17 21:07:21

Apparently there is loads of unregistered land that noone knows who owns. Probably get advice first but i think You can put up a fence up around it to claim and it as yours if no one else claims it -if you want to do that.

WonderMike Tue 21-Mar-17 21:12:39

We had a a strip of land at the side of our last house which was fenced in but not on the deeds - it was next to a National Rail building and only accessible via their land (or ours) but their solicitors denied all knowledge so the previous house owners wrote a letter confirming they'd fenced it and used it since a date more than 13 years before, our solicitor started the adverse possession process and 12 years later it was added to our deeds.

clevername Tue 21-Mar-17 21:14:41

Thanks - yes, we've heard that too. Trouble is it would be quite tricky to fence given the bus stop, bench, BT boxes etc. And, as it's right in the middle of the village (literally, the main road) I reckon it would piss people off (which is not something I want to do prior to putting in a planning application!). Mind you, it might make the 'owner' come forward!

If we were to do this, though, we've then got the problem of proving ownership to the planning authorities - waiting until it was officially 'ours' would be years I'm guessing...?

EyeStye Tue 21-Mar-17 22:39:53

Land registry advice is to check adjoining titles to see who transferred a small piece of land out of a large piece and may have retained that land
Eg if Lord of the Manor once owned all the village and transferred bits of land out when selling parcels of land for houses LoftheM may have retained the strip of the land even tho it may be unregistered land

You should have reference to an old transfer in your Land Reg title

clevername Tue 21-Mar-17 22:51:58

Thanks for that info, EyeStye (and thanks to everyone else for their help, too!). We'll investigate that tomorrow.

Does anyone know if there is any legal procedure for gaining access to your property across land that doesn't belong to anyone (or who's ownership has been lost in the sands of time)? Is it really our only option to fence it and go through the lengthy process of claiming it as our own over the course of years?

JaniceBattersby Tue 21-Mar-17 23:57:32

You don't need to own the land to get planning permission. Plenty of people get planning for plots they haven't even bought yet. Putting in a planning app may prompt the owner to come forward.

Collaborate Wed 22-Mar-17 06:55:56

Just use it as a drive. No need to fence it off. After 20 years you will be able to establish a ROW by prescription.

PossumInAPearTree Wed 22-Mar-17 07:13:04

She's not going to be able to use it as a drive if there's BT open reach boxes and bus stop on it! Fenced or not fenced.

Really don't see how you can "claim it", it's not on your deeds and doesn't belong to you. If it wasn't been used for anything then fair enough I would say just start using it but BT aren't going to remove the boxes for you.

FrancisCrawford Wed 22-Mar-17 07:19:38

There are firms of searchers who can do this work on your behalf.

If you are in England then Landmark Information Group might be a good place to start. As a rough guide prices would be around £100 an hour and would not guarantee finding a definitive title

LIZS Wed 22-Mar-17 07:22:58

Have you asked the parish council ? BT must have had permission from someone to install their services on it.

JustPoppingBy Wed 22-Mar-17 07:29:03

Have you checked if bt own it, We have strips of grassed land about 4mtrs from the front drives down our road, our strip has BT boxes and our 6mtr wide strip is actually owned by them but all the other strips along our road are council.

Bellaposy Wed 22-Mar-17 07:33:13

Your solicitor will investigate this as part of your purchase. It is usually clear from the Land Registry.

clevername Wed 22-Mar-17 20:59:42

UPDATE!
We heard from the county council today that, given our circumstances, they will allow us to apply for access onto the road across the weirdo bit of land without having knowledge of ownership, as long as the parish council are happy for us to do this in principle. This is awesome news because it means that not being able to trace the owner or it being ownerless won't necessarily stop us from putting an application in.

And the solicitor also got back about the deeds - apparently it looked on a very old copy of the deeds (mid 19th century) like the land might have once belonged to our property. We're thinking maybe the Baptist church might have given it to the village at some point...

Anyway, we'll keep digging (both metaphorically and hopefully literally, if planning allows!)... but at least our planning app can legitimately go in now (hopefully - I'm looking at you, parish council)!

Thanks for all of the advice.

SilverBirchWithout Wed 22-Mar-17 21:09:39

BT Open Reach will no doubt have a 'way-leave' in order to have their boxes on the land. Contact their legal department or accounts (payments) department to find out to whom they pay ground rent.

Historical maps of the area - held by county archives service may also denote ownership

mistlethrush Wed 22-Mar-17 21:15:57

Just be careful with the 'notices' that you fill in on the planning application form - you will probably want to fill in the 'owned by someone that can't be notified' and put an ad in the local newspaper rather than the one saying that you own it.

clevername Wed 22-Mar-17 21:39:59

Weird that you mention way leave, Silver, as we contacted them today too! We found out about the ground rent thing but in previous enquiries to Open Reach they couldn't tell us who the owner is (as in, didn't know, not wouldn't tell us because of privacy concerns). I'm not sure they're paying ground rent for the land at the moment - who knows, we might be able to claim it from them at some point in the future!

Cheers for the advice, mistlethrush - will definitely look out for (and be careful with!) that part of the form.

Cheers guys

KatyBerry Wed 22-Mar-17 21:47:45

if you do get the planning consent, you should perhaps simultaneously get yourself an indemnity insurance policy. We have a landlocked house with no right of access save for up an unregistered / ownerless road. We suspect that the road belongs to the person who owns the adjoining ditches and hedges but it can't be proved. We have a policy covering the value of the house in the event that the owner of the road turns up / blocks our access.

thinkfast Wed 22-Mar-17 21:55:38

Echo the advice above re insurance and be careful what enquiries you make. Sometimes doing too much digging around stops an insurer offering a policy as they worry you may have alerted the land owner as to what's happening thus making them more likely to come forward and block

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