Trial win for local authority highways team against a cyclist hitting a drainage grid

Elizabeth Bower
Elizabeth Bower

Published: May 3rd, 2023

7 min read

"If I dedicate a way to the public which is full of ruts and holes, the public must take it as it is". So held Willes J in the 1867 case of Gautret v Egerton. It remains the position, most notably held in the case of Gorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council [2004] 1WLR1057, [2004] UK HL15, that there is no obligation to improve a highway. Highway Authorities are only under a duty to maintain the highway in a fit state to accommodate the ordinary traffic which passes or may be expected to pass along it.

This issue again came before the court in Manchester County Court on the 12 April 2023.

The Claimant alleged that on the 24 October 2019 at approximately 4.30pm he was cycling along a street when his front wheel went down an incorrectly laid drainage grid causing him to part company with his bicycle and suffer a fracture to his left elbow and concussion. He alleged that the gully was incorrectly orientated in the road, the grid bars lying parallel to the pavement allowing a narrow bicycle tyre to fit into the gaps in between the bars.

Following the accident, the grid was inspected and no repair was required. This was an original gully top from the last gully construction, probably some 110 - 130 years ago and constructed having regard to the standards at the time. Although the claimant sought to rely on them, at that point in time no British Standards existed. The present guidelines are for gully covers to be sited at 90 degrees to the kerb. The British Standards are of course guidelines and have no statutory force. They also have no retrospective force.

The road was subject to an annual inspection and the gully had never been noted for repair, and there had been no complaints.

In any event the claimant's allegations related to the design and construction of the grid and its orientation in the road. There was no evidence that the defendant had not maintained or repaired the cover. The allegation was in effect one of a failure to improve the highway under the powers granted to the defendant pursuant to s100 of the Highways Act 1980.

The evidence from the defendant's witnesses was that there are hundreds of such covers in the Borough and the cost of replacing them would be prohibitive.

The claim was dismissed. Having heard the evidence the Court found the parallel gully was something which was a common feature along the highways and cycle paths, to replace them would be an improvement and that to find for the Claimant in this case would place an unreasonable and unaffordable burden on Highway authorities.

Forbes Comment

With the rise in the number of cyclists on the road and the increasing use of narrow tyres to improve aerodynamics and reduce weight this decision will be a welcome one for Highway Authorities concerned with the potential risk which parallel gullies may pose.

For further information please contact Elizabeth Bower

How can we help?

Complete the form opposite, let us know a few details, and one of our team will get back to you shortly. Or you can call us or request a callback.

0800 689 3206 - Monday - Friday: 09:00 - 17:00

Request a call back

By submitting your enquiry you agree that Forbes can contact you.

© 2024 Forbes Solicitors is the trading name of Forbes Solicitors LLP Offices in Preston, Manchester, Salford, Blackburn, Blackpool, London and Leeds UK Main Office: Rutherford House, 4 Wellington Street (St Johns), Blackburn, Lancashire, BB1 8DD • Vat No: 174 394 344 Forbes Solicitors is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA No. 816356). Details of the SRA’s Standards and Regulations can be found here.

This website has implemented reCAPTCHA v3 and your use of reCAPTCHA v3 is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.