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‘Ad medium filum’ is a Latin phrase which means ‘up to the middle line’. It is a rebuttable presumption that an owner of land which adjoins either a public or private highway, or a non-tidal river or stream also owns the highway or river/stream up to the middle line of the highway, river or stream if the ownership cannot be determined. This blog post will focus on the application of the ad medium filum principle to highways.

The problem:

Typically, the land in question is unregistered meaning there is no record at the Land Registry as to who the owner of this land is. This creates the initial issue of who this ‘no man’s land’ belongs to when the ownership cannot be established by the title deeds. It is a particular consideration on development sites when establishing the routes of access and services to the site, such as electricity cables and mains water pipes which frequently require the use of adjoining highway, to complete development.

If the highway is not publicly adopted and there is no record of who historically owns it, it can make it increasingly difficult for a developer to know who to approach in order to obtain rights of access and services over this land. The ad medium filum rule can offer a possible solution in such circumstances.

The application:

The principle of ad medium filum can be regarded as being a strong potential solution to the issue raised above. As with other title defects, indemnity policies and applications for adverse possession can be considered, as well as potentially approaching a local authority to see if they will adopt the highway. It will vary on a case-by-case basis and the specific facts in the circumstances as to which solution is best.

The benefit of the ad medium filum principle is that it applies even if a transfer of the property adjoining the highway refers to a plan which seems to specifically exclude the highway from the demise.

The limitations:

There are a few limitations to the ad medium filum principle.

Firstly, if an application is made to the Land Registry to utilise the ad medium principle to obtain possession of part of a highway, the Land Registry will mostly likely only grant possessory title to the land/highway. Possessory title means that the actual ownership of the land is debatable and subject to challenge. This means that if an individual was able to show that they had a stronger claim to the land, such as holding the original title deeds, the Land Registry would revert ownership to them.

Secondly, it is a rebuttable presumption meaning that its application can be defeated if there is strong evidence showing that it wasn’t intended for an individual to own up to the middle of a highway, and in the case of buildings/estates it can be quite easy to rebut the presumption that the adjoining property owns up to the middle of the highway. For example, the highway may not have existed at the point of construction of the property and therefore the property cannot be deemed to have ownership of part of a highway which was not in existence when ownership to the property was transferred.

It is also worth noting that in the case of a public highway maintained by the Highways Authority at public expense, the application of the principle is subject to the road surface and the necessary amount of airspace above the road being vested in the Highways Authority.

Please note this blog is intended to provide general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a query in relation to boundaries, please get in touch with our friendly team.