In a move that will cause concern to many councils the High Court recently held in the case of Chesterton Commercial (Oxon) Ltd v. Oxfordshire CC that Oxfordshire County Council was liable to a buyer who had relied upon an inaccurate statement in a local authority search result.

The council had stated in its replies that no part of the property in question was a highway maintainable at public expense. In fact this was misleading because the council had been investigating the very question of highway adoption in relation to the property for several years! Three years after completion the council decided that part of the property was and always had been maintainable at the public expense... resulting in a diminution to its value.

The High Court held that the council could not simply rely on its own highway map which showed that the property was not adopted. It had a duty of care to ensure that its records were kept up to date and the fact that there had been an investigation into the position should have been noted. Had the buyer known the true position in all likelihood it would not have proceeded with the purchase or would had negotiated a lower price.

Whilst local authorities will no doubt be reviewing their procedures to ensure that highway maps are kept up to date this is in my view a very sensible decision. If members of the public cannot rely on council highways maps then there seems little point in them being produced in the first place.