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Armchair land referencing #19

A ‘hereditament’ is a word that means something that is capable of being inherited and, in land referencers’ more technical parlance, a parcel of land that is indivisible by ownership or use: the building block for our management of spatial data. The correct use of words and pedantry, or as I prefer, clear communication and precision, have a firm place in land referencing work. If you’ll indulge me, I shall share a few examples with you.

One of my favourite land referencing tasks in writing book of references descriptions. (Some of you may know the JFK inspired ‘signature’ description of a ‘grassy knoll’ I have always tried to include in all the books of reference I have been involved with.) When writing these descriptions there are a few conventions and words which require care. When describing land over which powers are sought the convention is to start the description at the level at which the acquisition takes place and then work up before working down. This helps explain what is being acquired and what is just being described as a locational reference. If it has one, a house might then need to be described as having a cellar or basement. But which is correct, ‘cellar’ or ‘basement’? Did you know that a basement is a room under a building whereas a cellar is a room under a building that also extends beyond the built line of that building? The distinction is important and I recall being approached out of the blue by a parliamentary agent on this point when they were exploring how to gain a waiver for their application when their land referencers had omitted all the cellars and associated interests from under the roads where a new tram was planned.

These cellars extended under the street. Or do I mean ‘street’, ‘carriageway’, ‘road’, ‘highway’? Or should I only refer to the ‘pavement’? Or is that a ‘footpath’? All these words are casually used in daily use, but our work requires more care. This can get VERY complicated so the below is just a high-level explanation.

A pavement is more accurately a footway – part of the edge of a street reserved for pedestrians. A footpath (a ‘public footpath’) is a whole category of highway in its own right (see Armchair land referencing #19 on public rights of way). Together with the ‘carriageway’ (the part that vehicles may also use), this makes up the whole highway. ‘Public rights of way’ and ‘highways’ are public although by convention the former exclude motor vehicles. Strictly, the right is different from the land over which the rights exists and the nature of the right determines the type of way: footpaths (by foot only); bridleway (by foot and horse, possibly also with the right to drive animals); public path (a footpath or bridleway); and, carriageway (by foot, by horse or in/on a vehicle). Bicycles are vehicles but since 1968 have been permitted to use bridleways but cycleways provide a specific right to cycle which may or may not also extend to walking. Then there are roads used as a public path, restricted byways, byways open to all traffic and motorways, all of which have specific definitions. ‘Green lanes’ are not defined in law (avoid this term) but a road is. Roads may be public or private but usually the public have access to use roads unless they are specifically described as ‘private’. It’s safest to always state if a way is public or private. A street is a highway, so they are all public.

Curiously for an industry so interested in land, the word ‘land’ is never used, unless it is part of a railway (but never as part of a structure carrying a railway). Railways themselves are tricky to describe. Because they don’t move, they should never be described as being ‘to’ or ‘from’ somewhere. The proper way to describe a railway is with reference to the places they are between, as in ‘Crewe and Chester’. To further confuse matters – by which I really mean to make things clearer - the ‘up’ station (the one in the London-wards direction) is always given first. In mainland Britain there is always an up station. Metro systems sometimes have their own conventions. For the London Underground the line is always referred to (e.g. ‘Piccadilly line’) instead of the up and down stations. But remember, the word ‘line’ is never capitalized.

The people affected by our work also need to be referred to properly. Full name and titles (but not awards) are used - but usually only if the title is granted by the state or Church of England. We might qualify the interest held in up to two ways: either a qualification of the right held (such as in respect of subsoil or access) and / or a qualification of the nature of how the right is held (such as as a trustee or executor). No one should confuse an ‘executor’ (male) or ‘executrix’ (female) (people with responsibility for carrying out the terms of a will) with an executioner, which is something else entirely.


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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