Famers must be proactive on public rights of way issues says Jonathan Cheal of Mogers Drewett
Public rights of way issues are likely to affect you whether you have thousands of acres or a property next to a verge on the side of a lane. And it is vitally important that public access management is thought about strategically rather than piecemeal and firefighting as problems arise. For example, simply closing a gate from time to time or sticking up signs saying Private may well be ineffective.
Advice is needed because of the complex legal and technical issues; there are more major statutes on this subject than on virtually any other plus a myriad of regulations. One of the easiest ways of avoiding claims for new public rights of way across your land is to make a written deposit by lodging forms and plan with County Council.
Making a valid deposit stops the clock by preventing public use of a path for less than 20 years maturing into a claim. The deposit gives you protection for 20 years but it has to be valid in terms of the wording, and accuracy, and the scale and size of the plan.
It will cost you some money to do but may save you many thousands; the cost is peanuts compared to fighting a claim. I have had many cases in which a deposit has turned out to be a helpful weapon, but sadly a great deal more cases where no deposit had been done, but for which the owner would have been successful in defeating a claim.
Entering into a permissive path scheme can keep control and management of access, and liaison with user groups and your parish council is also important. Just as it is important to be proactive, it is vital you are reactive. Don’t ignore a claim; don’t assume it will go away. It won’t. You need to fight evidence with evidence; there is no point in just objecting on grounds of desirability or suitability.
Similarly it’s important to look at access before buying a property –public rights don’t always show up in a standard search. Proper access management can avoid unnecessary contention and expense, and specialist legal advice is needed.
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. Jonathan works with Mogers Drewett which has offices in Bath, Sherborne and Wells. He also regularly attends Market days at Frome Livestock Market.