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’ve heard that I can give permission for paths on my land to be used and that I can withdraw permission in the future? Is that true?”
The answer is yes. This is what is known as a Permissive Path.
It involves you as the owner granting the public permission to use the path (as long as it’s not a public right of way already).
You will need sufficient signage to make it clear to the public it is only permissive and not going to be dedicated as a public right of way.
You should tell the Parish Council, and also tell the County Council and ask if they would be prepared to enter into a Permissive Path Agreement.
This Agreement will allow you to specify the width, whether there are gates, and to give notice that you will close it from time to time for land management and how you will publicise this.
If someone takes down the Permissive sign, you do need to replace it and take photographs showing it in situ and the date.
You can also write to the County Council along with the photograph of the sign and restate that you have no intention of dedicating the path.
That letter will have the same effect as if the sign remained in place.
The great benefit of a permissive path is that you are allowing the path to be used by the public but only on your terms, and you can specify that they do so at their own risk.
Ideally you should try to recruit the Parish Council’s help in getting individual forms of indemnity signed by users.
By making it a permissive path you are making it very clear that you do not intend to dedicate it, so those who are using it will not get a right to it.
At the same time you will be building bridges with the local community so it is a good PR action for landowners and farmers in forging relationships with local people.
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.