Enforcement of visibility splay outside highway authority's ability

In considering an enforcement notice directed at the creation of a new vehicular access at a farm in Gloucestershire an inspector has agreed that it was unreasonable to expect the highway authority to be responsible for maintaining the proposed visibility splay in perpetuity.

A previous inspector’s decision had been quashed by order of the High Court and the second inspector agreed that a determining issue related to the safety of the access and the ability to maintain adequate visibility splays. The highway authority advised that the required splay should be 2.4m by 215m given the standard of the main road and likely vehicle speeds. The appellant, after undertaking a speed survey, argued that 2.4m x 185m was appropriate. He also claimed that the Highways Act 1980 placed a public duty on the highway authority to maintain the safety of every access and junction along its ‘entire highway network’ and this included the appeal site.

In expressing doubts as to the accuracy of the speed survey, which had not been corroborated by the highway authority, the inspector had little doubt that a splay of 2.4m x 215m was required to maintain safety on the basis that some vehicles were recorded as travelling in excess of 75mph. Section 130 of the Highways Act 1980 did require the highway authority to allow the public to safely enjoy any highway whilst section 154 enabled it to remove obstructions to a driver’s view. But in his opinion the appellant’s interpretation of the Act was ‘extreme’ and placed safety above all other matters including the stewardship of the highway for ecological, wildlife or other reasons.

Reliance on the Highways Act was not therefore a reasonable or effective means of ensuring that the visibility at the access was maintained in perpetuity. In Mills v Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council [1982] it had been held that the law should not impose unreasonably high standards on local authorities to avoid scarce resources being diverted from situations where maintenance and repair of the highway was more important. Therefore, whilst a 2.4m x 215m splay was achievable by cutting back overhanging hedges there was no effective means by which this could be achieved given that it involved land outside the appellant’s control but within the control of the highway authority. It would not be reasonable to expect the highway authority to seek ongoing compliance, and the appellant and those benefiting from the access could not be forced to maintain it via an appropriate condition. Since the development also harmed the character and appearance of the area the inspector decided that the appeal should fail.

Inspector: Pete Drew; Written representations

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