General Boundaries

Jon Maynard Boundaries Ltd, Boundary Demarcation and Disputes, Rights of Way, Expert Witness, Chartered Land Surveyor


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Understanding General Boundaries

  You are here:    Boundary Problems | Understanding General Boundaries
Introduction to General Boundaries
What is a general boundary?
Example of a General Boundary
Explaining Boundaries Terminology
History of General Boundaries
Rule 278 of the Land Registration Rules 1925



Introduction to General Boundaries

When Land Registry shows a general boundary on a title plan
then it is telling you that somewhere nearby there is an exact legal boundary
at an unknown distance from and not necessarily parallel with the general boundary.


Land Registration is a specialist subject. It is not a topic that is covered in a general education, such as the GCSE and 'A' Level courses taught to school children. It is a subject normally covered only at degree level and only in some law and some surveying courses.

It should not be surprising that people who become land owners (for example, by buying a house), and who have not studied the relevant law or surveying courses, are completely unaware of some of the most important principles of land law and land registration. Key amongst these principles, in relation to the boundaries of their land, is the concept of general boundaries, which underpins land registration in the British Isles.

Classic misconceptions held by land owners in England and Wales are:

  • that Land Registry defines property boundaries in England and Wales;
  • that the exact line of the boundary is shown on the title plan, i.e. that the title plan may be treated as a blueprint for the boundary.

To correct the first misconception it is necessary to understand that Land Registry is but a technical library with a duty to record the information that is submitted to them by an applicant seeking to first register his or her title to a parcel of land that is not yet registered. The applicant's information relating specifically to the boundary usually takes the form of a Paper Title Boundary. So it is important to recognise that Land Registry's role is to record a boundary that has already been created and described by someone else.

The correction of the second misconception follows on from that of the first: it is clear that the title plan is compiled by Land Registry after the boundary has been created and described by someone else, and this means that the title plan is not and cannot be a blueprint for the boundary.

To better understand title plans it is necessary to recognise that Land Registry receives applications that each describe the boundaries using different methods and different kinds of plans. For the sake of conformity, Land Registry transfers this information onto a common and consistent map base. It does this by reconciling the information it receives against the Ordnance Survey map. Moreover, the Ordnance Survey map is a map of the physical features encountered on the land by Ordnance Survey's surveyors, who make no enquiry as to the positions of property boundaries as they go about mapping the physical features.

In "Land Registry Public Guide 19 - Title plans and boundaries", a paper that has now been withdrawn from circulation, Land Registry posed the question, in relation to its Title Plans,
Why are the exact boundaries not shown?
and explalns:

Every property, whether or not it is registered, has exact legal boundaries. These are lines separating the land owned by one person from that owned by a neighbour. Deeds rarely identify these legal boundaries precisely and often the owners do not know where they are. Trying to establish the exact position of the boundaries at the time of registration could involve a great deal of expense and may cause a dispute that would otherwise not have happened. For these reasons the great majority of land in England and Wales is registered with general boundaries only.


My next sentence explains that profound limitation as it affect title plans. It is probably the most important sentence on the whole of this web site and I make no apology for highlighting it.

When Land Registry shows a general boundary on a title plan
then it is telling you that somewhere nearby there is an exact legal boundary
at an unknown distance from and not necessarily parallel with the general boundary.


The general boundaries system operated in England and Wales has a profound limitation, one that is not understood by those seeing a title plan for the first time. Truth be told, the limitation is not understood by a great many professionals and lawyers.

Land Registry's terminology has unwittingly created further confusion. Land Registry holds that the general boundary shown on a title plan is an imprecise representation of the legal boundary, and this is because its position on the title plan is based upon the description of the boundary in the pre-registration conveyance (or title) deed. That explanation sounds reasonable until you take a boundary dispute to court and find that the court holds that the title plan shows an imprecise representation of the Paper Title Boundary and that is only the judge who may decide where the legal boundary is to be found.


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What is a general boundary?

A title plan is an extract of an Ordnance Survey map to which Land Registry has added red edging to draw attention to a series of black lines that indicate the general boundaries of the parcel of land in the registered title.

The black line used as the general boundary may be either:

  • an existing line on an Ordnance Survey map that shows a physical feature that does not necessarily carry the legal boundary, which feature may have been inaccurately surveyed and/or deliberately drawn (for good cartographic reasons) out of its correct position, or
  • a dashed line placed by Land Registry across a part of the map where Ordnance Survey shows no physical feature.

When the general boundary is represented by an Ordnance Survey line then the general boundary follows the physical feature on the ground that is represented by the black line on the Ordnance Survey map. Such a general boundary is often at variance with the paper title boundary that is described in the conveyance deed or transfer deed by which the parcels of land located on either side of the boundary were first divided from each other.

When the general boundary is represented by a dashed line placed by Land Registry across a part of the map where Ordnance Survey shows no physical feature then we know that the general boundary is placed according to Land Registry's faithful attempt to accurately transfer - into a blank space on the Ordnance Survey map - the boundary shown on the conveyance plan or transfer plan. Such a general boundary occupies a very uncertain position upon the ground: that position may be a designed position for a physical feature that was later built in a different position, or it may BE a physical feature whose map position has been inaccurately plotted onto the conveyance plan or transfer plan. Further, Land Registry probably did not visit the site to check on the position of the boundary feature, and thus can result in Land Registry placing the general boundary in an erroneous position.

Whether the general boundary is shown by a solid or a dashed black line, lt follows that the general boundary occupies a map position (as opposed to a ground position) in the vicinity of a paper title boundary (that has a real, if poorly described, position on the ground). The general boundary is no more than a starting point in a search for the true position of the paper title boundary.

It should also be remembered that Ordnance Survey's map positions for objects such as buildings, roads, railways, watercourses, do not always exactly reflect the ground positions of those objects. Such imperfections call title plans further into question. For more information on Ordnance Survey's maps see Using Ordnance Survey maps.

For all of the above reasons, title plans carry the following warning:

"This title plan shows the general position of the boundaries: it does not show the exact line of the boundaries. Measurements scaled from this plan may not match measurements between the same points on the ground.".

In other words, you have been warned not to trust implicitly the positions of the boundaries shown on the title plan.

See also Land Registry Title Plans


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Example of a General Boundary

The drawing below illustrates, through one particular case history, an example of a general boundary that is shown on a title plan in a different position from the boundary that actually separates two parcels of land that are now in different ownership. The example below describes the unique factors affecting a particular site. It does not and cannot provide a formula for working out the relationship between a general boundary and its corresponding paper title boundary: such relationships are random and arbitrary in nature.

Relating the general boundary to the true boundary by examining the history of the site

The first four panels in the above drawing each represent a different stage in the history of the site. The fifth panel demonstrates the relationship between the general boundary and the true boundary.

A   An organisaton that I shall call Company Alpha purchased the land hatched red. They demolished the buildings on that land and redeveloped the site for their own purposes.

B   Company Alpha needed only about 80% of the land for their intended purpose. So they placed a fence across the northern end of the portion of land that they wanted to use and left the smaller, northern section of the land undeveloped. Over time the northern section became colonised by wild vegetation. Company Alpha had erected a perimeter fence around the whole of their land, so that the fence separating the used and unused areas was in effect an internal fence. Its status as an internal feature of the land might explain why the fence never appeared on any edition of the Ordnance Survey map.

C   Eventually another company offered to buy the land covered in vegetation to the north of the "internal fence": I shall call this buyer Company Beta. A transfer deed was needed to give legal effect to the sale. It was of course necessary, as a means of describing the boundaries of the land transferred, to draw up a transfer plan to accompany the transfer deed. The transfer plan was based on an Ordnance Survey map. As the fence was not shown on the Ordnance Survey map, the vendor or their solicitor mistakenly used as the southern boundary of the land being sold a line that they found on the Ordnance Survey map, but this line was in reality a grid line and not a physical feature.

Company Beta's newly created parcel of land was the subject of an application to Land Registry for the First Registration of title to that parcel of land. When Land Registry created a title plan to accompany the title register for this newly created parcel of land they reconciled with the Ordnance Survey map the information supplied by the applicants. In other words, they faithfully copied from the transfer plan the grid line that had mistakenly been used, in the absence of a line to represent the fence itself, as the southern boundary of the land in the registered title. Land Registry was unaware of the applicant's error.

Company Beta cleared the vegetation from the land to the north of the "internal fence" and developed it so that their land looked generally similar to the land to the south of the fence that was still owned by Company Alpha. Two years later, Company Beta sold the land to the north of the fence to Company Gamma.

D   One year later, Company Alpha decided to dispose of their remaining land. They sold it to Company Delta, who promptly built a large building upon it such that the northern external wall of the new building followed the same line as the "internal fence" that had been erected some fifteen years earlier.

E   Company Delta's new building was surveyed by Ordnance Survey and added to its map. Land Registry decided to update its title plans using Ordnance Survey's newly updated mapping. For the first time, it became apparent that Land Registry's general boundary was shown in a different position from the actual boundary created when Company Alpha sold about 20% of its original land holding to Company Beta.

Neither Company Gamma nor Company Delta were party to the original definition of the boundary in question, and neither knew the full history of the site. Company Gamma took the view that Company Delta's new building encroached onto Company Gamma's land because Company Delta had recognised as the boundary a fence that had been erected in the wrong position. It was only when the two companies each instructed an independent boundary demarcation expert, and those two experts each concluded that the boundary had been drawn in the wrong place on the transfer plan, that a court case was avoided.


The above case history demonstrates two very important points about general boundaries:

  • Land Registry does not define property boundaries - it is merely the custodian of information supplied to it by applicants;
  • general boundaries are sometimes shown in a different position from the true location of the boundary because of errors of description made by those applicants who are responsible for describing newly created boundaries.


Other examples of caution needed when referring to the general boundary shown on a title plan:

  • General boundary resulting from design plan. Sometimes, when applications for first registration of newly built houses are made before Ordnance Survey's maps are revised to show the new houses, Land Registry has no option but to base its title plans upon the transfer plans. If those transfer plans are based on design plans, and if the builders did not exactly follow the design plans, then the title plans will reflect the inaccuracies of boundary descriptions inherent in design plans.

  • General boundary uses "generalised" OS map. When a title plan is based upon an Ordnance Survey map that has been "generalised" then the need for caution is amply demonstrated by the discussion of map generalisation on the "Using Ordnance Survey maps" page of this web site.

  • Land Registry's treatment of general boundaries at road frontages is very much open to question, as is discussed on the Land Registry's Title Plans page of this web site.


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Explaining Boundaries Terminology

The word 'boundary' has no special meaning in law. Given this unsatisfactory state of affairs it is not surprising that a number of phrases have been employed, such as "legal boundary" and "physical boundary", in an attempt to convey greater clarity of meaning when discussing a boundary. Unfortunately, none of these phrases has a universally accepted definition. In an effort to rectify this situation the following list of explanations is offered for each of the terms in common use.


The word boundary has no special meaning in law. Thus we must accept a standard dictionary definition, such as:

  • boundary, n. Limit-line [The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1934, Oxford University Press, London]
  • boundary, n. line dividing a country, estate, sphere of action or thought &c., from another, sea or river or hedge or the like doing this [The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 4th edition revised 1946, Oxford University Press, London]
  • boundary, n a limit; a border; termination, final limit [The Chambers Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1998, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh]


Common Boundary

The common boundary between your land and the land belonging to one of your neighbours is simply that section of your own boundary which also serves as a section of the boundary of your neighbour's land. There is no special meaning in law attaching to the term common boundary.


Paper Title Boundary

The paper title boundary is the boundary that was described in the parcels clause and/or upon the associated plan of the conveyance or the transfer deed by which the parcels of land located on either side of the boundary were first divided from each other.


Legal Boundary

The simplest explanation of the legal boundary is that it is the boundary described in the legally enforceable deed by which the parcels of land located on either side of the boundary were first divided from each other. This explanation is essentially the same as the explanation for 'paper title boundary'.

This explanation is unsatisfactory, however, as the location of the boundary is capable of being modified by such influences as a boundary agreement, adverse possession or estoppel. Thus the legally recognised boundary may have been moved to a location away from the paper title boundary.

For the purposes of land registration, according to the Land Registry Practice Guide 40, Supplement 3 - Land Registry plans: boundaries

2.1 legal boundary
An imaginary or invisible line dividing one personís property from that of another. It is an exact line having no thickness or width and is rarely identified with any precision either on the ground or in conveyances or transfers and is not shown on Ordnance Survey mapping. Ultimately the exact position of a boundary, if disputed, can be determined only by the court or the Land Registration division of the Property Chamber, First-tier Tribunal.

Land Registry, whilst explaining the difficulties in attempting to record the exact position of the legal boundary, avoids giving a definition for the term 'legal boundary'.

Fixed Boundary

According to Land Registry's Practice Guide 40, "Land Registry plans", dated Oct 2005:

3.4 Fixed boundaries
This procedure was used to fix the precise position of a boundary. It was superseded by the determined boundaries provisions referred to above. Fixing a boundary was a very expensive process and only a handful of titles have ever had boundaries fixed under this procedure. A boundary fixed before the commencement of the LRA 2002 does not offer any special protection against adverse possession.

According to the Land Registration Rules 1925:

276. Fixed boundaries
If it is desired to indicate on the filed plan […], or otherwise to define in the register, the precise position of the boundaries of the land or any parts thereof, notice shall be given to the owners and occupiers of the adjoining lands, in each instance, of the intention to ascertain and fix the boundary, with such plan, or tracing, or extract from the proposed verbal description of the land as may be necessary, to show clearly the fixed boundary proposed to be registered; and any question of doubt or dispute arising therefrom shall be dealt with as provided by these rules.

Words in square brackets revoked by Land Registration (No 2) Rules 1999, r2(1); Sched. 1(9).

277. Note as to fixed boundaries in register
When the position and description of the boundaries of the land have been thus ascertained and determined, the necessary particulars shall be added to the filed plan […], and a note shall be made in the Property Register to the effect that the boundaries have been fixed. The plan […] shall then be deemed to define accurately the fixed boundaries.

Words in square brackets revoked by Land Registration (No 2) Rules 1999, r2(1); Sched. 1(9).


Agreed Boundary

An agreed boundary is a boundary whose position has been agreed by the owners of the land to either side of their common boundary in an agreement whose purpose is to clarify the ambiguous description of the paper title boundary as it was written or as it was mapped in the original conveyance or transfer deed.


Determined Boundary

The term determined boundary arises out of Section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002, which neither uses nor defines the term itself. The terminology has been changed to "Exact Line of Boundary: Registration".

Section 60 of LRA 2002 is quoted on the Statute Law for Boundaries page of the present web site. Section 60 (3) says:

"Rules may make provision enabling or requiring the exact line of the boundary of a registered estate to be determined".

Boundaries, and especially determined boundaries, are dealt with under Rules 117 to 123 of The Land Registration Rules 20003, and Rule 119 is amended by Schedule 1 to the The Land Registration (Amendment) Rules 2008.

The Boundary-Problems web site offers its own determined boundary definition on the Agreed and Determined Boundaries page.

  • a paper title boundary that is poorly described in the title deeds,
  • whose exact position has been ascertained with the help of ...
  • a professionally qualified land surveyor ...
  • who has accurately mapped and painstakingly described it, and
  • which description is accepted by the adjoining landowners on either side of the boundary,
  • so that Land Registry may note on the register for each title that the exact line of the relevant portion of the boundary has been determined.
  • It is important to note that a determination of the exact line of a boundary does not redefine either the legal boundary, the paper title boundary or the general boundary, which are all unaffected: the determined boundary merely describes more precisely the position of the boundary.

    If, as a result of determining the exact line of the boundary, the physical features by which the adjoining landowners have hitherto recognised the boundary are found to be in a position other than on the determined boundary then it may be necessary to relocate the physical boundary to bring it into sympathy with the Determined Boundary.


    Physical Boundary

    A physical boundary is usually a physical feature that acts as a barrier between two parcels of land in separate ownership, and such a physical barrier may or may not be located along the legal boundary. Examples of such physical barriers include fences, walls, banks, ditches, hedges, the bank of a river, etc.

    Sometimes a physical feature that is incapable of providing an effective barrier is put in place on or near a boundary as a marker and may thus be referred to as a physical boundary.

    It should never be assumed that a physical boundary actually stands in the same position as the legal boundary that it purports to represent. There are many reasons why a physical boundary might be emplaced at a remove from the legal boundary, and the most obvious example is a hedge grown close to but not upon the legal boundary of a parcel of residential land.


    General Boundary

    A general boundary might be defined as a boundary whose position has not been ascertained to the nearest inch (see the last paragraph on page 585 of the article Great Oaks from Little Acorns ...).

    The definition given at Section 60 of the Land Registration Act 2002 is no more enlightening:

    (2) A general boundary does not determine the exact line of the boundary.



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    History of General Boundaries

    The Land Registry Act 1862 established Land Registry and required that registered boundaries were defined precisely.

    The 1875 Land Transfer Act removed the need to ascertain boundaries to the nearest inch, thereby introducing the concept of general boundaries.

    The Land Transfer Act 1897 prescribed that the Ordnance map, on the largest scale published, shall be the basis of all registered descriptions of land.

    The Land Registration Rules 1925 [1] state:

    278. General boundaries

    1. Except in cases in which it is noted in the Property Register that the boundaries have been fixed, the filed plan […] shall be deemed to indicate the general boundaries only.

    2. In such cases the exact line of the boundary will be left undetermined-as, for instance, whether it includes a hedge or wall and ditch, or runs along the centre of a wall or fence, or its inner or outer face, or how far it runs within or beyond it; or whether or not the land registered includes the whole or any portion of an adjoining road or stream.

    3. When a general boundary only is desired to be entered in the register, notice to the owners of the adjoining lands need not be given.

    4. This rule shall apply notwithstanding that a part or the whole of a ditch, wall, fence, road, stream, or other boundary is expressly included in or excluded from the title or that it forms the whole of the land comprised in the title.

    Words in square brackets in para. 1 revoked by Land Registration (No 2) Rules 1999, r2(1); Sched. 1(9).

    The Land Registration Act 2002 promoted the general boundaries rule into primary legislation:

    60 Boundaries

    (1) The boundary of a registered estate as shown for the purposes of the register is a general boundary, unless shown as determined under this section.

    (2) A general boundary does not determine the exact line of the boundary.

    It is thus perfectly clear that registration of title in England and Wales is based on an assumption that for an overwhelming proportion of title holders (registered proprietors) - certainly well in excess of 99% of them - it is acceptable to describe the boundaries of their registered titles in terms of general boundaries.


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