Tree and verge ownership taken for granted
The verges of public highways situated between the tarmac road and the hedges on either side are usually taken for granted, writes Laura Jones.
That is until frontagers have their attention drawn to a verge for particular reasons, such as the legal issues about rights of way across them or a statutory obligation to remove a dangerous tree.
Developers of property fronting on to public highway roads have to be absolutely certain they have access over verges.
Whilst there is a presumption at common law that verges are included with the ownership of the frontage property this is not automatically the case.
The verge might be privately owned by the frontager but still form part of the highway and be maintainable by the highway authority as a result.
Trees growing in the highway verge are likely to be the responsibility of the highway authority but trees situated in the hedges are likely to belong to the owner, together with the hedge.
These assumptions are always subject to relevant evidence to the contrary.
If an owner receives a formal notice from the highway authority for the removal of a tree, which is impeding or causing harm to the highway users, this can be an expensive exercise.
If the tree is situated on the highway verge there will be a presumption the relevant highways authority should maintain it and carry out the work at their own cost.
If the tree is deemed to be in a hedge and/or on land in the ownership of a frontager the highway authority has the ability to carry out the works and reclaim the costs from the land owner.
Evidence as to whether the highways authority owns the verge or is responsible for it is often based on the previous behaviour. If the highways agency has cut and maintained the verge for years this is likely to be part of the public highway.
If the verge is part of the public highway then it is an offence to block, obstruct or damage road verges.
In a recent criminal law case of Griffiths (Contractors) Limited v Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency a defendant who had parked a dumper truck on a grass verge too close to the highway was convicted of keeping an unlicensed vehicle on a public road. In this case there was no doubt that the public had access to the grass verge and the grass verge was maintained at public expense.
* By Laura Jones, FBCMB
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