old railway lines where people are trying to possess the trackbed

Discussion in 'Infrastructure & Stations' started by 34D, 28 Apr 2014.

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  1. 34D

    34D Established Member

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    ‎Hello,

    In this threadmyself and a couple of other posters briefly discuss disused lines that have had people fence them off, and/or where people have extended their garden right upto the edge of the former line.

    In some cases, people may have bought land from a railway authority legitimately. Others though may be chancers.

    The lack of clarity over the ownership of old railway lines (is it Network Rail, or BRB Residuary/Highways Agency, a local council‎, sustrans, etc etc) means that it is not at all obvious who to report encroachment to.

    This then has the effect that people ‎possess land for 12 years which means (in law) that they can apply for Possessory Title over that land - which means it is essentially theirs, and that if the original owner wants it (to put a railway line down) they need to negotiate a purchase price.

    So, my question is to whom can we report encroachment to who will actually care?‎
     
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  3. kevconnor

    kevconnor Member

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    As I understand it BRB Residuary no longer exists and all its titles deeds etc were transferred back into D(a)FT. a local council or highways agency would only own the land if they had purchased it, in which case it may be registered with Land Registry. Otherwise it may be owned by either Network Rail or Department for Transport.


    _______________________________________________________


    A very quick google search has just now also thrown up this website which may be a good starting point.

    http://data.gov.uk/apps/find-brb-residuary-ltd-property
     
    Last edited: 28 Apr 2014
  4. Xenophon PCDGS

    Xenophon PCDGS Veteran Member

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    In the cases where, as you say, the land has been purchased legitimately, the owners of the said land would not look kindly upon the questioning of their land rights by an outside party.

    Who is intended to pay for the costs, legal or otherwise, that will be incurred in such a process of enquiring into land establishment rights in the areas referred to ?
     
  5. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    This is quite a complex area of law. If the land in question is registered, then that means it is more difficult to become the owner by the route of adverse possession. It also makes it relatively easy to find out who the owner is.

    If the land is unregistered, then it is much less clear who the land owner is, and there is not really any easy way to find out.

    I'm a bit rusty on the procedures, but IIRC then in the case of registered land, notice will be issued ot the registered owner who can then initiate proceedings to have the person in possession evicted. The problem is, if they ar enot interested or don't consider it a worthwhile use of time, money and effort, then there isn't much that can be done.

    The exception to this is where a third party has rioght sover the land in question, but if they are unwilling to do anythign to protect those rights, we are back to square one.

    I endorse Paul comments. The rightful owner of the land may object to someone poking their nose into their affairs, so I would recommend two things to anyone intending to try and protect railway alignments from encroachment and adverse possession.

    Firstly, do a Land Registry search to find out if the land is registered, and, if so, to whom.

    If it is, and is perhaps in the name of a private individual, the land may have bene legitimately acquired.

    Secondly, be cautious in contacting the owner (or suspected owner). I would recommend a more general enquiry as to their policy in regards to protecting their land, rather than reporting encroachment, as the owner might well be aware of the possession (which could be under a rental agreement or licence) and quite happy for it to continue.
     
  6. The Decapod

    The Decapod Member

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    The law changed in 2002. Now the person claiming the land (or their solicitor) has to trace and contact the legal owner BEFORE claiming ownership, and they can only be granted that ownership if the legal owner agrees (unlikely) or doesn't reply within 2 years.
     
  7. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    That is not the case where the land in question is unregistered.

    I should also point out that the law under discussion relates to England and Wales.
     
  8. jopsuk

    jopsuk Veteran Member

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    Presumably there's also additional restrictions if land has officially been "safeguarded"?
     
  9. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    What do you mean by the term 'safeguarded'? The best way to safe guard land is to register it!

    If you mean to fence it off to try and prevent access, what has been done to that effect will be considered if and when a dispute arises as to who is actually in possession of the land. There are various acts of possession, and fencing is one way that a home owner might, for example, seek to possess unfenced land (eg a former railway line) and claim it as their own following the requisite period.
     
  10. Xenophon PCDGS

    Xenophon PCDGS Veteran Member

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    All this talk of fencing off land suddenly awoke a glimmer of my quirky sense of humour and I had visions of what occurred in the Oklahoma Land Races in the 19th century..:D
     
  11. chorleyjeff

    chorleyjeff Member

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    My experience was more of a Cheshire land grab!
    When I was an area surveyor for a brewery with many pubs in Cheshire I had the problem of people in rural areas seemingly thinking big bad brewery would be quite happy to donate land to adjoining land owners. Production of an extract from title deeds usually did the job of getting agreement that their garden included some of our land. But it was a botheration that was not needed and a pity that we couldn't claim costs.
    The worst Chesherite however was a retiree fromthat county who had retired to South Lakeland. He argued long and hard for 3 inches ( yes, three) of our ground despite the brick boundary wall that had been on that land for quite a few decades.
     
  12. michael769

    michael769 Established Member

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    Safeguarding is a constraint set out in the local plan designating that (in most cases) planning consents will not be granted unless in furtherance of the purpose for which the land in safeguarded.

    Fencing an area of off as a private garden requires change of use consent (typically from public open ground) to private garden, so safeguarding can be relevant to this issue.

    Any person may complain to the local planning authority if they believe that a garden has been created without consent. The local council can if it sees fit take enforcement action to force the occupier to remove fences and restore the land to it's original condition and use.

    This applies irrespective of the ownership of the land. Consent is very difficult to obtain as most local plans have a presumption against fencing off open spaces.
     
    Last edited: 30 Apr 2014
  13. Ploughman

    Ploughman Established Member

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    Not just on redundant trackbeds.
    We had a renewal on a single line in Yorkshire.
    On the walk through pre work with NWR we highlighted to the NWR rep that one particular garden was encroaching onto the old double track formation and might cause us problems during the relay. The back fence was 30ft away from neighbouring fences either side.

    The householder was visited and given an ultimatum by NWR that he had 7 days or a Digger would move his fence for him.
    Result - fence moved back to where it should have been on day 6.

    Relay carried out with no problems.
     
  14. Cheshire Rover

    Cheshire Rover Member

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    It happened on the Helsby to Mouldsworth line a few years ago, when a few locals "pinched" a few yards of embankment to create a larger garden. Network Rail must have been in the area one day and the next thing was that legal letters were sent out and gardens shortened.
     
  15. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    Interesting, thanks for that, my knowledge on safeguarding and planning rules is pretty non existent.

    The main problems, I assume, would be residents being unaware of this (as I was), residents not wanting to report it (especially if they are intent on doing the same thing), and the council deciding it is not worth the bother or expense if the land is insignificant. (I'd prefer the council to be financing libraries and local uneconomic buses over pursuing someone for extending their garden area over a dismantled railway formation by a couple of metres or so).
     
  16. michael769

    michael769 Established Member

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    In my experience fencing off land, even small parcels is a hot political topic and councils are pretty proactive in this area.

    They are also forbidden by law to make planning decisions on the basis of cost. In any event the occupier must meet all costs.

    The procedure is that upon becoming aware of the breach the occupier is required to submit a retrospective planning application and pay the relevant fees. Upon consideration of the application should the council refuse consent the occupier is required to reinstate the land at their expense.

    My council gets one of these every few months, people are surprisingly willing to complain about the loss of open space, and planning officials have a bit of an eagle eye for this kind of thing. I can only think of one that was approved - mainly to the area in question being a focus of crime and anti social disorder. Even that one involved considerably lobbying of councillors by police and neighbours to get it through against the advice of planning officials.
     
    Last edited: 30 Apr 2014
  17. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    My experience is a bit different. I know of several instances from my own experience where home owners have extended their gardens into waste land, whether former railway land or not, and objectors have told me that the council has refused to get involved, and directed them to me instead.

    Perhaps the front line council staff are not aware of the procedures? From what you say it sounds pretty easy to use councils and planning laws to get people removed. Yet, if that is the case, why do so many disputes over land occupation end up in court, or at the Adjudicator to the Land Registry? Or are they all concerning unfenced land, maybe?

    I'm not trying to be argumentative, just genuinely interested in an area of which I previously knew very little about!
     
  18. Xenophon PCDGS

    Xenophon PCDGS Veteran Member

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    Do not all councils have legal advice consultants either in-house or as a legal practice attachment to act for the council in legal matters that so ensue ?
     
  19. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    Yes, but my feeling is that those who have been directed away from the council will probably have spoken to someone who didn't know about the procedures outlined by Michael769. Probably a general customer services type of role more used to dealing with rent arrears, complaints about the bins and so on. In my experience, it's not easy to get through to legal departments directly!
     
  20. michael769

    michael769 Established Member

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    I'd be rather surprised that a planning official would not be aware of planning law and procedures.

    I wonder if the objectors managed to speak to the right people in the council? Certainly my advice would be to contact the planning dept directly - most do have a direct line. if all else fails the issue can be raised with a Councillor, ideally one who is on the planning committee.

    Of course policies do vary so there will be councils who might be less proactive in this area, and there can be local reasons (such as the anti social behavior I noted earlier) that may lead to councils tolerating this in some areas.

    It should be noted that planners can only get involved in the change of use issue, it is not their job to evict occupiers nor arbitrate on who owns what. And of course not all occupation disputes occasion a change of use, for example encroaching on someone else's garden does not change the use of the land and so is not a material planning matter.

    It's only really relevant to people taking over open spaces or the like, not dealing with bickering neighbors.
     
    Last edited: 1 May 2014
  21. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    As would I, hence my belief that the people I spoke to had not been in contact with one!

    I agree, but I wonder how many lay people would have sufficient knowledge to know about the council's role, and to know to contact the legal department? Councillors can also be very hit and miss - we used ot have a fantastic representative but now the local councillor is anonymous, most people don't really take an interest and don't know who they are!

    The councils I used to deal with were largely in north and west London, and they seemed less interested in such matters. But my perspective could have been skewed by my own involvement and the fact that my own communications with the organisations were often not straightdorward.

    Local authorities that I had dealings with were not at all interested in boundary disputes, and were not at all keen to involve themselves in adverse possession cases.

    On the othe rhand, I suppose that if councils had become involved I wouldn't have known about it anyway, since residents would have had no need to come to me and my organisation in the first place! Which is a valuable lesson about perspective!
     
  22. 34D

    34D Established Member

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    Folks,

    I've just become aware of How to Register a Town or Village Green which talks about both that and also the Local Green Space designation.

    Might either of these be a suitable step to deploy in respect of abandoned railway lines?

    Are there any adverse consequences in terms of future railway reopenings?
    --- old post above --- --- new post below ---
    For disused lines with real potential for reopening, the way our land laws work mean that having to buy back the bottoms of gardens can add several million pounds to a project.
    --- old post above --- --- new post below ---
    I suppose one could take out a 'caution' at the Land Registry?
     
  23. jopsuk

    jopsuk Veteran Member

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    I think the Local Plan could potentially designate the only permitted future uses of a strip of land, and hence make it abundantly clear that you can't take it for your garden?
     
  24. AlterEgo

    AlterEgo Veteran Member

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    There are a large number of unregistered parcels of land. Old "triangles" where three lines converged are usually unregistered (check the "island" in the middle of where the tracks went).

    I've located at least twenty. Interestingly, large portions of the old GCR are now registered freeholds in private names over the last 10-20 years with no purchase price. Many titles are possessory and not absolute, which indicates that the registered owner actually became so under an adverse possession claim.
     
  25. 34D

    34D Established Member

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    And this is precisely the problem.

    Presumably though the trackbed was sold to _someone_ by BR when the line was lifted?

    In the case I mentioned at the top, I have now been able to identify that BR sold part of the track bed to a council in the 70s
     
  26. AlterEgo

    AlterEgo Veteran Member

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    Actually in many cases the "triangle" (where no tracks were laid) is basically dead ground and is presumably the property of an aristocratic landowner who probably allowed the railway to build in the late 1800s. Most aristocratic properties are unregistered, so that the public cannot see the extent of their wealth.

    Bearing in mind the fact that the aristocracy gained their land by basically forcing people off it with weapons, I've no qualms about people adversely possessing their land and using it for something. A former railway triangle can be seen just north of Queensbury near Bradford. The triangle itself is unregistered.

    In the case of some very early closures (pre-BR) the "true" owners of the track bed can be almost impossible to trace and their descendants have probably not realised they have a claim.
     
  27. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    Agreed. The history of land ownership is deeply rooted in being in possession of the land, although I suspect few people realise that the monarch remains the ultimate land owner!

    But I digress. One of the reasons for the continuation of adverse possession is to allow a way of acquiring title to land that is seemingly not wanted, or, as you say, where it is impossible to who holds the title to the land.
     
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