A recent High Court case saw Oxfordshire County Council liable in damages to a buyer for providing an incorrect local search result.
Buyers usually raise enquiries in local searches to establish which roads are adopted highway. In this case, it was important for the buyer to know whether any of the land for sale actually formed part of the public highway.
The buyer intended to redevelop part of the land in question into private car parking as part of a new mixed use development. The buyer's local search result stated that the property did not form part of the public highway. This was incorrect as the land had not been correctly "stopped up" when the public highway had been diverted.
The local authority were liable to pay the buyer damages which covered the diminution in value of the property, but not to cover any development profit. An interesting question to be asked is whether the buyer could have notified the local authority that it intended to redevelop to land in question into parking and whether this would have to be taken into account when providing search results.
It was the Victorian judge John Maynard Byles who coined the phrase ‘once a highway, always a highway’ in the 1860 case of Dawes v Hawkins. This legal principle still holds true, and it remains the case that public highways can only lose this status if a formal ‘stopping-up’ order is applied for and approved by the relevant authority.