The courts do not lightly accept that rights have been abandoned through mere disuse. There has to be pretty unequivocal evidence that they have been intentionally and permanently abandoned by the owner and any tenants of the land benefitting from them.
In the Court of Appeal case of Higson & Anor v Guenault & Anor  the appellants, owned a house and garden at Lancaster (“the Higsons’ property”).
The respondents were representative members of the Bowerham Lawn Tennis Club (“the Club”). The Club was accessed by a narrow track which ran alongside the Higsons’ property (“the lane”).
The case centred on a larch lap fence mounted on concrete posts which the Higsons erected in 2004, (“the 2004 fence”).
In 2006, the Club wanted to recover the tennis courts. When the Club contracted to have the courts resurfaced, the drivers of the independent contractor lorries were unable to get down the lane to offload the material.
The issue was whether the Club had a right of way up to the hedge on the south side of the lane or whether the right of way was only up to the 2004 fence.
The court concluded that, as at 1997, the physical extent of the right of way which the Club enjoyed was up to the hedge on the south side of the lane.
The appellants claimed that the physical extent of the right of way might have been reduced by virtue of the 2004 fence. The court did not accept that argument. The mere fact that the owner of land benefitting from a right of way does not use the full extent of his right of way over the land burdened by the right of way all the time does not mean that the right of way is abandoned or modified.
It must be proved that the person having the right intends to abandon it. There was no evidence of that.
So in a victory for the Club, the court concluded that the Club’s right of way over the lane on the south side was, and remained, right up to the hedge, and up to the line of the former hedge where it had been cut down, e.g. to provide access points to the Higsons’ property.
This blog has been posted as a matter of general interest. It does not remove the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.