We all know about the many difficulties associated with farming in the urban fringe environment, not least in respect of repeated trespass over routes not dedicated as public rights of way.
Ignoring the use of such unauthorised access is unwise as, after 20 years of uninterrupted use by the public, the route may be dedicated as a formal footpath or bridleway. The use by the public must have been without force, secrecy, challenge or permission.
New rights of way created in this manner will be a burden on your property in perpetuity and can often have much more serious consequences than first envisaged, potentially impacting on asset value. For example, the right of way could sterilise an area of development land, cause nuisance to managing a farm or estate shoot, or generally interfere with your peaceful enjoyment of the property.
Fortunately, it is possible to provide protection against future claims for dedication of new rights of way. Under the Highways Act 1980, a landowner statement can be deposited with the local authority, together with a scale plan of the property, setting out in detail those public rights of way (and their exact position) which are accepted and at the same time declaring that there is no intention to dedicate any further routes to the public. It should be noted that this procedure will not defeat an application made by the public in respect of 20 years uninterrupted use prior to the initial deposit of the statement.
In addition, landowners can take overt action, such as erecting carefully worded signs, locking gates, and challenging users and making a note of such challenges. Not all of these are easy to conduct in an urban fringe environment for obvious reasons, but any additional overt action taken will serve to support the Highways Act 1980 statement.
"... after 20 years of uninterrupted use by the public, the route may be dedicated as a formal footpath or bridleway."
Private property rights are under threat from a number of different angles. Some, such as legislative changes, cannot easily be challenged but we feel landowners should be proactive on other matters where there is an element of control available. In respect of the potential for dedication of new rights of way we strongly advise you to protect your asset and its underlying value, by acting on the above. YoungsRPS is very happy to hold further discussions with any clients concerned about rights of way and provide more detailed, tailored advice.
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