West Country solicitor Jonathan Cheal is a public rights of way specialist whose services are in demand across the country on a topic which can be a minefield for farmers and landowners alike. He’s also well known for his brightly coloured bow-ties.
Each month he will be exploring different strands of a complicated subject. Today he answers the question : I am planning to buy land; how do I check if there are any public rights of way, actual or pending?
A basic conveyancing search will not reveal that a claim has been lodged for a restricted byway, or bridleway, or footpath on the land in question.
You can only find out what routes have become public rights of way by studying the Definitive Map which is held by each county council. The Ordnance Survey Map is not definitive.
And the Definitive Map is only updated every so often. There is a time lag, which can be quite dangerous when a purchase is going through, between a new application being made and, if successful, its appearance on the definitive map.
How do you find out if there is one pending? Question the vendors – they are likely to have had notification letters. Also look at the register of pending applications.
The register of pending applications is a list which shows what new claims have been applied for, and the stage of the process of each claim; some will not make the Definitive Map as they will be thrown out.
And a new application can come in at any point so it’s important to check, and then check again before exchange of contracts.
If your conveyancing solicitor is not a rights of way specialist, it is always possible for you to procure an access audit in order to check in advance all aspects of the land you are buying, from the point of view of public access. In the long run, it may well save you money.
Jonathan works with Mogers Drewett which has offices in Bath, Sherborne and Wells. He also regularly attends Market days at Frome Livestock Market. Jonathan can be contacted on 07901 33 26 42.