Highways (ownership)

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This is a backup copy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service's "Off the Record" wiki from 2015. The live went offline in 2016 and is currently unavailable. Editing and account creation are disabled.

The following source list was originally available only on paper in one of the West Yorkshire Archive Service offices. It may have been compiled many years ago and could be out of date. It was designed to act as a signpost to records of interest on a particular historical subject, but may relate only to one West Yorkshire district, or be an incomplete list of sources available. Please feel free to add or update with any additional information.

It can often be difficult finding out who owns (or used to own) roads and highways. The first step in ascertaining ownership of land is to contact the Land Registry to see if the land has been registered. If a road is unregistered there are several resources that may be of use in establishing ownership:

Public Highways

If a road was designated a 'Highway' before the 1835 Highways Act it is still maintainable at the public expense. If a road was called 'Public Highway' on an enclosure award then usually responsibility and maintenance falls to the local authority.

If a road was adopted by a council (see below), it should have bene mentioned in the County Council Highway Committee minutes. A council would not have ownership of an adopted road, but it would be responsible for it. Formerly, in practice work on minor roads was carried out by the local RDC or UDC on behalf of the County, while major roads were maintained by the County Council on behalf of the Department of Transport.

Modern public highways are owned by the Highways Agency.

Private Roads

Privately owned roads and highways are usually directly linked to residential buildings and industrial sites. Often when a new development was built access roads to these sites remained privately owned by the subsequent purchasers of the property.

If a privately owned road was adopted (see below) then maintenace generally now falls to the appropriate local authority. If a road remained privately owned and unadopted then access and maintenance issues may be described in the title deeds of the property associated with the road. The West Riding Registry of Deeds holds memorials (summaries) of freehold deeds registered from 1704 to 1970 for property in the former county. The deeds are indexed by the names of the parties involved in each transaction; for further information about the Registry and how to use it please refer to User Guide No.4.

Adopted Roads

Following the Highway Act of 1835, no new road could become publically repairable before 3 months notice had been given in writing to the Highway Authority, there had been an inspection by two Justice's of the Peace, and an issuing certificate was enrolled at the Quarter Sessions (later taken over by the County Council). The Highways Act of 1959 re-enacted these provisions, and repeated the provisions layed out in the 1875 Public Health Act, the 1892 Private Street Works Act and the 1951 New Streets Act. As a rule an application required 3 months notice to the Highways Authority and a certificate deposited with the Clerk of the Council.

Evidence of this notice can usually be found in the Highways Committee minutes at the date of their adoption. Wakefield Metropolitan District Council also have a card index of adopted roads in the WMDC area.

Other useful information on ownership can also be found on tithe maps, Enclosure Awards, Definitive Footpath maps, the 1910 Finance Act and Deposited Plans (ref. QE20).