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Armchair land referencing #17

Last time we looked at markers on the ground as well as the possible re-measurement and mapping of OS boundaries. This reminded me of a setback I encountered on the West Coast Route Modernization project about 20 years ago for Network Rail in the course of their Transport and Works Act application for the four-tracking project to relieve the bottleneck on the West Coast Main Line between Tamworth and Litchfield. We has just completed the detailed development of the digitized spatial layer of land parcels when the project decided to adopt an updated OS mapping base that, in Staffordshire, shifted all the background mapping - and all our work we had based upon it - a few centimetres to the east. The whole project had suddenly shifted to the right! Now of course, no real change had happened and this OS update was one of the last that had any significant widespread impact, however as the tolerances required by the project were zero (or maybe just a millimetre or so), in that pre-GIS age, we had to re-digitize the lot.

There are instances when places really do move, in once sense or another. For instance, Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town in Northumberland is famously ambiguous about its location. It is currently in England, however it has changed hands between Scotland and England more than a dozen times. This ambiguity required it to be mentioned by name in legal documents so it was clear what side of the border it was on at the time and whether the law being passed applied to it or not. Famously (and apocryphally) it was long reputed that when England was engaged in the Crimean War with Russia, Queen Victoria signed the 1853 declaration of war as ‘Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and all British Dominions’ but Berwick was omitted from the subsequent peace treaty in 1856 which meant the people of Berwick remained at war with Russia. Sadly this is just an amusing story, although it is worth noting that a real ambiguity continues: Berwick’s football and rugby teams all play in Scottish, not English leagues.

In a more modern setting, my local tube station is Parsons Green, which is the stop between Fulham Broadway and Putney Bridge on the Wimbledon branch of the District line. However, Fulham High Street, Fulham Palace and Fulham Football Club are all near the river close to Putney Bridge, not at Fulham Broadway (which is confusingly where Chelsea play). It turns out that when they opened in 1880 Putney Bridge station was called ‘Putney Bridge & Fulham’ and Fulham Broadway was called ‘Walham Green’. Somehow in the intervening years the idea of where Fulham is has moved closer towards central London leaving the historic location opposite Putney on the bank of the Thames two stops to the west.

It’s also the case that obsessionally some places actually do physically move. The photo shows a road that was perfectly straight in New Zealand but now has a pronounced kink due to seismic activity.

Between the gradual migration of the sense of place and the almost instantaneous shift brought about by an earthquake is the possibility of a place being picking up relocated. That is what’s currently happening to Kiruna in Sweden, just as it did to Hibbing, Minnesota in the USA in the 1910s – both because of unstable ground conditions brought about by local mining operations. New dams and floods have also brought about the shifting of whole communities in the US and Australia where inhabitants have literally picking up and moved their houses, business premises and other buildings to new locations. In the mid-1990s the town of Minor Lane Heights, Kentucky managed to avoid all this bother. Instead the townspeople managed to strike a deal with their local airport operator so instead of being paid cash compensation for jet engine noise, the airport bought all 552 houses plus the local police station and moved everyone to a new development 5 miles away. I wonder how our aviation clients might react to such a suggestion?


This article is written by Ashley Parry Jones, Director – Planning, WSP. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of WSP or SoLR or its members. The information provided does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice and instead is offered for general purposes only. It does not constitute the most up to date legal information. Any links and references provided are for the readers’ convenience only and do not constitute a recommendation of those sources.

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