Rowland v The Environment Agency: ChD 19 Dec 2002

Public rights of Navigation have since time immemorial at common law existed over the Thames including (unless and until extinguished or ceasing to be exercisable) Hedsor Water. The claimant sought a declaration that rights of navigation over that part of the Thames had been extinguished.
Held: The various statutory provisions had not granted to the respondent any power to remove rights of navigation. The 1885 Act did not apply and gave the claimant no assistance. The agreement restricting access had not been in place for twenty years, and had only been of a temporary nature. No legitimate expectation that public rights had been extinguished could be established, because the respondent had no statutory power to extinguish rights.


The Hon Mr Justice Lightman


Times 28-Dec-2002, [2002] EWHC 2785 (Ch)




Thames Preservation Act 1885 2 5


England and Wales


CitedCory v Bristow HL 1877
The owner of a vessel used for commercial purposes while fixed in position on a long-term basis over moorings on the riverbed could for rating purposes be treated as the occupier of those moorings and the part of the riverbed in which they were . .
CitedRex v Lord Grosvenor 1819
An obstruction interfering with navigation on the Thames with a public right of navigation was unlawful even if erected with the Conservators’ consent unless the Conservators were granted statutory power to give such consent. . .
CitedVooght v Winch 1819
Public rights of Navigation could not be extinguished by physical obstruction. . .
CitedRex v Montague 1825
The Commissioners of Sewers might have the power to extinguish public rights of navigation if they found that it would be for the benefit of the whole level. . .
CitedRex v Russell 1827
‘The right of the public on navigable rivers is not confined to the passage: trade and commerce are the chief objects and the right of passage is chiefly subservient to those ends.’ . .
CitedRegina v The Commissioners of the Thames and Isis 1837
In 1833 Lord Boston complained to the Commissioners about the construction of the Cut above Hedsor Water on the Thames. The Commissioners did not act on the complaint. Accordingly Lord Boston claimed compensation from the Commissioners for the loss . .
CitedRex v Betts 1850
A navigation authority’s powers to build obstructions to navigation were confined to situations where they were aids to navigation. . .
CitedOrr Ewing v Colqhoun 1887
In the case of tidal rivers the public right of way extends over the whole watercourse but in the case of non-tidal rivers the public rights (at least ordinarily) are confined to the channel of the river. . .
CitedConservators of the River Thames v Smeed Dean and Co CA 1897
The erection of a lock or pound lock otherwise than for the maintenance or improvement of navigation would be ultra vires by a Navigation Authority and in all likelihood a nuisance. Chitty LJ said: ‘The Conservators are a statutory body brought into . .
CitedBourke v Davis 1899
A public right of navigation over a river is ‘similar to a right of highway on land not covered by water.’ Before 1885, public rights of navigation did not exist over tributaries of the Thames where there was no prescriptive user. . .
CitedSimpson v Attorney General HL 1904
Lord Lindley said: ‘the doctrine once a highway always a highway is, I believe, applicable to rivers as to roads’ . .

Cited by:

Appeal fromRowland v The Environment Agency CA 19-Dec-2003
The claimant owned a house by the river Thames at Hedsor Water. Public rights of navigation existed over the Thames from time immemorial, and its management lay with the respondent. Landowners at Hedsor had sought to assert that that stretch was now . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Transport, Land

Updated: 06 June 2022; Ref: scu.178555