Public bridleways: Can I divert them if they cross my land?
Bridleways are a right of way familiar to most of our agricultural and developer clients. Often this is because their land is burdened by the right itself or it is a right they see being exercised every day by country ramblers.
For those who are uncertain about the rights linked to bridleways, a bridleway is simply a highway over which the public has a right of way to pass and repass as frequently as they wish either on foot, on bicycle, or on horseback without hindrance and free of charge. This however enforces obligations on the landowner who owns the land over which the bridleway runs.
Common law dictates “once a highway, always a highway” which means that a bridleway remains a public right of way until it physically ceases to exist or is extinguished by law. It is very difficult to prove that a public highway has ceased to exist as the fact that it is no longer apparent on the ground or is overgrown is not sufficient. It needs to literally fall off the edge of a cliff over which it runs into the sea! Therefore, unless a bridleway can be extinguished by law, which is a difficult argument to successfully bring, bridleways can cause concern for landowners and, in some circumstances, restrict their use of their own land.
One option available to landowners is to divert public bridleways across a more convenient part of their land or across another’s land (with their consent). This can be done by a Public Path Diversion Orders (PPDO) and may enable landowners to use their land more freely.
The procedure for obtaining a PPDO depends on the policy of the relevant local authority. Generally an application must be made and this is often submitted with a map (not less than 1:25000 in scale) detailing the existing and proposed routes of the bridleway. Also the application must be made with the written consent of the land owner (and the occupant e.g. a tenant) of any affected land i.e. those affected by the current path and those who will be affected by the proposed path.
The local authority usually rules on the application but should their decision not be forthcoming within 4 months of making the application the applicant can seek an answer from the Secretary of State. When deciding whether or not to grant an application the decision maker must take into account whether the proposed diversion:
- is expedient to the land owner (and the occupant)
- is not substantially less convenient to the public e.g. surface of the path, width of the path, distance from features of interest, length of the path
- alters any point of termination of the path
You should not therefore assume that, for example, the granting of planning permission will automatically be followed by a PPDO. Therefore, practically bridleways should be considered in the early stages of the development and planning process.
Once a PPDO has been granted the local authority will alert the public by publishing a notice in a local newspaper and display a notice at each end of the current footpath.
Notices are also sent to the landowners (and occupiers) and community/parish councils. Assuming no objections are raised, the order will be confirmed in writing and become operative.
A word of warning…The price you pay for more freedom over your own land
If you are considering making an application for a PPDO it is important to note that the normal position is that the person making the application will bear their own and the local authority’s costs incurred in making and granting the application as well as the costs involved in implementing the changes on the ground and the ongoing maintenance. In addition the costs can extend to compensation for any loss caused to anyone by the creation of the diverted bridleway.
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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