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 “Is there any guaranteed way of preventing new public path claims on my land?”
Yes there is. The easiest way to avoid the headache of being caught up in claims for new public rights of way across your land is to make a written deposit, by lodging forms and plan with the County Council.
Making a valid deposit stops the clock by preventing public use of a path for less than twenty years maturing into a claim. It is a procedure which has been around for many years, but recent changes to the process since October 2013 have helpfully extended the effect of the protection, and have also added potential “village-green” type claims within the scope of the deposit.
In effect the deposit allows you to accept existing public paths (footpaths, bridleways etc) but that you will not accept any other route, and that you have no intention of dedicating, such other routes for public access.
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.
However as with all rules there are exceptions: so, if a claim is based on historic use a deposit will not cut any ice but if a claim is based on modern use it will, provided the use has not matured to the full 20 years.
The sooner you do it, the sooner the clock stops. For example if you put down a deposit in 2014 but next year the public claim to have been using a footpath across your land since say 1997, it would actually be eighteen years ; so a valid deposit will prevent that alleged use from maturing.
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. .
As with all public rights of way legislation, it is a complex subject so you need specialist legal advice when drawing up the deposit.
Jonathan Cheal works with Mogers Drewett which has offices in Bath, Sherborne and Wells. He also regularly attends Market days at Frome Livestock Market.