Church Lane, Clopton

Church Lane is an unsurfaced unclassified road (UCR) in Clopton, Suffolk, which had been blocked by a landowner using concrete blocks. The blocks were set at a width which prevented 4x4s and similar vehicles from accessing the lane, but allowed motor cycles and horses to pass along it.

Local Green Lane Association representatives had reported the obstruction to the Highway Authority, Suffolk County Council, and they had approached the landowner who refused to remove the width restriction. He argued that a 19th Century OS map showed a width (if scaled up) which was only sufficient to allow a horse and cart to pass.

The Highway Authority had admitted that the lane had vehicular rights, but were minded to agree a width of 1.72 metres despite the much greater physical width between the hedges and boundaries of the lane.

The Green Lane Association provided evidence to the Authority that a typical Suffolk Farm wagon was wider than the landowner was claiming, and obtained a statement from Ordnance Survey that it isn’t possible to determine road widths by simply scaling from old maps.

Although the Highways Act 1981 places a statutory duty on the HA to protect and assert the rights of all users (S130), the procedure for enforcing the removal of an obstruction is less straightforward if the road is a UCR rather than a Byway. From the same act S150 gives the right for a user to apply to a Magistrates Court for an order requiring the HA to remove an obstruction from a Byway (or any Right of Way), but this procedure doesn’t apply to public roads which aren’t on the Definitive Map as rights of way.

The lack of a robust enforcement policy by Suffolk CC allowed the landowner to ignore the law and although at one stage the concrete blocks were moved, they were still left in such a position as to form an unacceptable width restriction.

The Green Lane Association finally instructed a solicitor to write to the Authority requesting that they arrange for the obstruction to be removed, but little action was taken and the restriction remained. We therefore took Counsel’s advice and our solicitor prepared to take enforcement action in the High Court using the procedure for Judicial Review. A judge would be asked to review the legality of the Authority’s decision to allow the obstruction to remain. A further solicitor’s letter to the Highway Authority, accompanied by a Freedom of Information Request for evidential information eventually led to a removal of the obstructions without the need for High Court action.

This case illustrates the importance of a user group like the Green Lane Association being able to obtain specialist legal advice, and having the financial ‘clout’ to take councils or landowners to court where necessary. Your annual subscription to the Green Lane Association helps to keep our Fighting Fund topped up and enables us to take robust legal action in cases where normal local negotiations have failed.