People are generally aware that they have a right to use public roads and pavements that include highways, footpaths and bridleways. Private land may sometimes be accessed if the landowner has agreed to let people use it, (sometimes known as giving ‘permissive access’) but one would need to look for signs.
Every Local Authority keeps a map showing all the footpaths and bridleways in a county together with an accompanying statement concerning scales and limitations on rights. This map is known as the Definitive Map and Statement and inclusion on it is conclusive proof of the existence of the public footpath and the rights in question although exclusion from the map is not proof that a path or way does not exist.
Landowners are able to apply for footpaths to be diverted from their land and the majority of footpath diversions go through unopposed. Any proposal to move a path must however meet certain tests; the proposed new route can’t be less convenient for walkers to use and mustn’t hamper their enjoyment of the path.
The Deregulation Act 2015 is part of the Government’s drive to remove bureaucracy and aims to simplify the process for claiming paths and adding them to ‘definitive maps’ making it more consistent across the country and less contentious.
The simplified process will mean that when a landowner is notified of a claim for a path across their land, they can discuss a simultaneous diversion with the Local Authority at an early stage. If the proposed new route isn’t significantly less convenient or enjoyable for path users, it can be processed at the same time as the order to add the path to the Local Authority’s Definitive Map.
This streamlining means path claims are less likely to be contested by landowners and paths can be added to Definitive Maps more quickly and easily. All unrecorded paths that existed before 1949 must be added to definitive maps by 1 January 2026. With a backlog of thousands of paths already waiting to be added, it’s especially important that the process is speeded up or the paths could be lost forever.
Many of these paths have existed for hundreds of years and by adding them to official records they can’t be blocked off or built on and are protected for future generations to enjoy.
This firm deals with all matters concerning public rights of way including footpath diversions.
This article does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken before acting on any of the topics covered.