Encroachment on to Road Verges

A Plea from BSCF President, Michael Hurford - December 2007

This has become an increasing problem in Bishop's Stortford when so many houses are being enlarged as house owners extend their property to enclose all or part of the verge.

To so obstruct a part of the public highway is an offence under the Highways Act 1980 and the Highways Department of the County Council is obliged by law to remove the obstruction.

There is much misunderstanding of the law on this matter. Almost all the public highways contain a metalled strip in the centre and, usually, a verge on each side of it.

These verges may be pavements or grass strips where the frontagers puts blocks of stone, lumps of wood, stakes or even shrubs and trees on them. This can be awkward or even dangerous to pedestrians and pram users, especially when the road is narrow.

Ownership of the verge is irrelevant; it still remains a right of way in the same way that a footpath is still owned by the farmer but cannot in law be blocked. The Bishop's Stortford Footpaths Association is pursing these breaches of the law and it would be extremely helpful if Community Association members reported any problems to them. The Paths Secretary is Mrs Sylvia McDonald and can be contacted on 01279 656478.

Readers may be interested to note that verges have held an important place in the landscape throughout history. See the quotation below from an article published last spring:

King Nebuchadnezzar has had a bad press for more than 2,000 years because of the fiery furnace and other acts of tyranny, but he deserves a break at this daffodil-filled time of year. Those bands and clumps of yellow by our roadsides have a tradition going back to the times of the king of Babylon, whose cuneiform records are among the earliest documents to stress the importance of highway verges. Nebuchadnezzar is more famous horticulturally for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon but, as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, these are beyond the reach of local councils, let alone the homeowner.

The verge is another matter: a cheap but precious refuge for walkers and riders and a delight to other travellers. On motorways, meanwhile, the banks beyond the hard shoulder, off-limits to humans, are becoming one of the country's most important and safest habitats for plants and animals. Verges need support because, in spite of their annual glory at this time of year - with cowslips, tulips and soon honesty and lupins adding to the show - they are too often abused by parking, litter and occasionally annexation by those who believe that their property, or at least their chain-link fence, should extend all the way to the tarmac's edge. Nebuchadnezzar was a classic hard-shoulder man, over-harsh with such people, ordering on his clay tablets that they should be hanged outside their homes. It is enough to remind them that soft, flowery verges are a modest but fundamental part of the public realm.