241: High Court rules that new use of right of way is permitted and not excessive
On 4 April 2023 the High Court handed down its judgment in the case of Zoe Claire Bucknell v Alchemy Estates (Holywell) Limited. In this case, the court considered whether two new uses of a right of way over a driveway were within the scope of the easement granted and whether such uses were excessive.
The High Court ruled that the right of way was not restricted to the purpose for which it was originally granted. Additionally, the use of the right of way to facilitate the construction of two residential properties and the subsequent domestic use of the driveway by the new homeowners was neither excessive nor a nuisance.
A right of way over a driveway on the servient owner’s land (the ‘Farmhouse’) was expressly granted in 1972. The right of way was required in order to connect the dominant owner’s land (the ‘Yard’) to the public highway.
The right of way was drafted very broadly as a:-
‘right of way at all times and for all purposes with or without animals and vehicles’.
Owners of other neighbouring land also had the right to use the driveway in order to access the highway from their residential properties.
At the time of the grant, the owner of the Yard was primarily using the driveway for agricultural purposes (eg: for the transport of calves or the movement of machinery). However, this agricultural use came to an end in 1990, and the owners of the Yard then made limited use of the driveway.
In 2014, the Farmhouse was sold to the claimant, and in 2018, the defendant purchased the Yard. The defendant obtained planning permission to construct two residential properties on the Yard in 2020. The claimant subsequently filed a claim alleging excessive use of the right of way over the driveway as a result of the construction work and intended future use of the driveway for residential purposes.
The High Court had to decide if the right of way was restricted to the agricultural purposes for which it was originally granted and if the new use of the driveway by the defendant was excessive.
High Court judgment
The High Court ruled in favour of the defendant, and the claim failed. The court held that the right of way was binding on the claimant and was not restricted to agricultural use.
The defendant’s use of the driveway to allow for the construction and occupation of the houses was within the scope of the easement granted. The court concluded that a right of way should not be restricted to such uses as were reasonably required at the date of the grant. However, the land in question needs to be able to physically accommodate any new use (which it could in this case).
As for excessive use and nuisance, the court ruled that the use of the driveway for construction works and for residential purposes was neither excessive nor a nuisance. Regarding the residential use, the fact that other neighbours had the benefit of the same right of way to access their homes worked in the defendant’s favour, as this showed that agricultural use of the driveway was not the only type of use contemplated.
In respect of the use of the driveway to allow for the construction works, the court explained that it should be expected that buildings need demolishing and reconstructing every now and then. Such use was not excessive as it was for a limited time only and the driveway could easily accommodate the construction vehicles.
This case highlights that a broadly drafted right of way can continue to apply even if the purpose for which it is required changes over time. It also shows that the use of a right of way for construction purposes is unlikely to be considered excessive if the work is short-term. The important caveat to remember is that the land in question must be physically capable of accommodating the new uses.