It is interesting to see The Guardian shine a spotlight today on the need for better mapping under the surface of cities. We commonly come across issues below ground level when we are working on acquisitions or development projects. Three issues I have come across lately are:
1. London Underground lines: more modern lines tend to be registered at the Land Registry and expressly excluded from the titles that surround the lines. For older lines, there may be no records at the Land Registry to indicate that a tube runs underneath a property and the geographical route of tube lines can be surprising. We can only find out whether this is an issue by carrying out searches with TfL. If a tube line runs underneath a property, TfL and LUL will need to be consulted on the development proposals and an asset protection agreement may be required to ensure any works do not disturb the tube infrastructure. Mail rail tunnels and old BT tunnels can affect properties in a similar way.
2. Unregistered basements: older buildings sometimes have lower levels that are wider than the ground floor and the registered title may not include these additional underground areas, for example, unregistered basement areas that protrude underneath the adopted highway or pavements. These unregistered areas can be hard to spot, but basement lights in the pavement can be a useful giveaway. The Land Registry may agree to amend the register to include such areas in the registered title, if a statutory declaration can be provided.
3. Utilities: sometimes there are clear documents in place providing utility providers with private easements for the installation and maintenance of utilities. However, it is more common for utilities documentation to be unclear or out of date, or for utilities to be in situ and not documented. On acquisitions for development, we normally carry out a full suite of utilities searches, but we also recommend comprehensive site surveys to identify utilities more accurately. These may need to be relocated to accommodate the development plans, which can be a time consuming process.