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Public Rights of Way Frequently Asked Questions


Our frequently asked questions are divided into seven categories.

Definitive Map

For more information, also see the public rights of way Definitive Map web page.

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General queries

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Ploughing and cropping

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Animals

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Obstructions

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Responsibilities

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Making changes to a Public Right of Way

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Answers

The Definitive Map

What is 'the Definitive Map?

The Definitive Map is a record of all known public rights of way, which include public footpaths, public bridleways and public byways (for more information also see Managing the public rights of way network). The digital Definitive Map map together with the Definitive Statements for each route, are the legal record of the public's rights along them.

What is the Statement?

The Definitive Statement for each right of way describes the route and any restrictions on its use.

When was the map published?

Preparation of the map started in the early 1950s, following the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Initial surveys were carried out by town and parish councils and walking groups. A lengthy consultation process involving landowners and path users eventually led to the publication of the Definitive Maps for County Durham.

How up-to-date is the Definitive Map?
Since publication, various legal orders have been made to modify the Definitive Map. These reflect the numerous path diversions, creations, closures and other changes that have occurred since the map was prepared.  

Where can I see the Definitive Map?

The original map(s) and the working copies are available for public inspection during normal office hours, at the Access and Rights of Way office in Durham County Hall. No appointment is necessary but you are advised to contact us beforehand to ensure that an officer is on hand to assist with any queries you might have about the map.

What can I do if I think the map is inaccurate or incomplete?

You can apply to us for the addition of a path to the Definitive Map (or a deletion), or for a change in the status of any route shown on it. However, since the map is deemed to be legally conclusive proof of the existence of the public rights shown on it, you will need to supply strong evidence to support your claim.  Given sufficient evidence, we are obliged to make a Definitive Map Modification Order to make the change.

Why are all rights of way not recorded on the Definitive Map?

Omissions were made when the Definitive Map was drafted in the early 1950s when parish and town councils first recorded routes in their areas.

How can a right of way be added to the Definitive Map?

There are two main ways that this can be done:

  • Dedication: if the landowner owns the land over which the right of way crosses, s/he can dedicate a footpath or a bridleway.
  • Modification Order: if the public have used a route for twenty or more years as of public right and without interruption, they may apply for a Modification Order under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Footpaths, bridleways and byways can be modified using this process.

Can a right of way be diverted?

Yes, footpaths and bridleways can be diverted under the Highway Act or the Town and Country Planning Act, if there is a planning application pending. The alteration of a byway must go before a Magistrate Court.

Can a right of way be extinguished?

Yes, it is possible to extinguish a right of way under the Highways Act, the Town and Country Planning Act or the Wildlife and Countryside Act. However, such applications receive many objections and are often not processed or confirmed as a result.

Can landowners show that they do not intend to dedicate new rights of way across their land?

To prevent use by members of the public creating new rights of way across their land, landowners can send the county council (as the highway authority for County Durham) a map and description of their property and any rights of way crossing it. This is known as a "Section 31 Deposit" as it is made under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980.

The map needs to clearly show the extent of the property, and the location of any rights of way (if any) the landowner knows crosses it.

The statement needs to describe the status of the rights of way, in other words, whether they are footpaths, bridleways or byways.

Within 10 years of making this deposit the landowner will need to send the County Council a further statement known as a "Statutory Declaration" that no additional ways have been dedicated to ensure that no new rights are created.  This will need to be repeated with further declarations at intervals of not more than 10 years from the date of the previous declaration.

However, it must be noted that while s31(6) prevents new rights of way from being created, it does not prevent rights of way which already exist but are not shown on the Definitive Map and Statement - such as an ancient lane - from being added to the Definitive Map.

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General queries

How can I report a problem on a Public Right of Way?

Report a problem with a Public Right of Way

The path we have used for years has now been blocked/diverted - can you get it cleared?

The first thing to do is check that the path is recorded as a Public Right of Way by contacting us.

If the right of way is recorded, in most cases we will be able to take action to clear any obstructions on the right of way. If the path is not currently recorded it may be possible to claim it as such. This would require the claimants to obtain sufficient evidence to prove that public rights have indeed been established. Public rights can be acquired through 20 years public usage (not including private access rights) with the following conditions:

  • the route was used without interruption in other words, always useable, no locked gates or prohibitive signs
  • users did not seek permission of the landowner
  • that there is no evidence that the landowner did not intend public use of the route

We will investigate the evidence once a claim has been submitted. (See the Managing the public rights of way network page.)

What can I do if I think that the land adjoining a  Public Right of Way is dangerous?

From time to time we encounter unfenced dangers on adjoining land, which present hazards to path users. We have a duty to protect path users from such dangers. We will in the first instance talk to the owner of the adjacent land and urge him to remove or adequately fence the danger. We can require the owner of the dangerous land to carry out the necessary works by service of notice. If the owner does not comply with the notice, we may carry out the work and recover the costs from the owner. (Highways Act 1980 section 165)

What about electric fences alongside a Public Right of Way?

Where an electric fence runs alongside a public path it may be a danger and a nuisance to members of the public. If, in our opinion, the fence is a danger or nuisance, then we will ask the owner to make the fence safe for members of the public using the path. If the owner refuses or fails to do so, we can serve legal notice requiring the owner to remove the source of danger within a specified time. Failure to comply with the notice will result in the county council removing the fence and recovering costs from the owner. (Highways Act 1980 section 165)

Can firearms be used on a Public Right of Way?

It is not an offence to shoot across a public right of way, although to do so may amount to a common law nuisance or intimidation, depending on the circumstances. It is, however, an offence to discharge a firearm within 50 feet of the centre of a byway (or other route carrying public vehicular rights) if it injures, interrupts or endangers any user of the route. (Highways Act 1980 section 16.1 )

It is also an offence to have a loaded air-weapon - or any other firearm whether loaded or not - together with ammunition in a public place, including any public right of way, unless the person has lawful authority or a reasonable excuse, such as a landowner or tenant shooting vermin on his own land. (Firearms Act 1968 section 19)

What can I do about overgrown hedges and trees adjacent to public rights of way?

In most circumstances, the responsibilities of the county council do not extend to the maintenance of hedges and trees at the side of public rights of way. The landowner is responsible for ensuring that a hedge does not overhang a public right of way so as to obstruct it.

We do have a right to remove so much of the overgrowth to prevent obstruction to pedestrians and equestrians. Additionally, we have powers to require that the owners of overhanging hedges lop or cut back the hedge within a period of 14 days. (Highways Act 1980 section 154)

If a byway is being damaged by the exclusion of light and air due to adjacent hedges or trees, we have a power to seek an order at a magistrates court, to require the owner to cut back sufficient to prevent such damage. However, before using this power, the we would discuss the matter with adjacent landowners and request that the hedges or trees be cut back, or agree to carry out the work in conjunction with the owner as part of a larger project. (Highways Act section 136)

Who is responsible for bridges and culverts on Rights of Way?

Responsibility for the provision, repair and maintenance of bridges and culverts is shared between us and the landowner, and may be different in each case. We are responsible for most footbridges, but where a public footpath or bridleway crosses a bridge, over which there are private vehicular rights, then maintenance of the bridge to vehicular standard is likely to be the responsibility of the landowner.

The rail authority is responsible for the structure of most footbridges over railway lines.

What can I do about misleading signs and notices on public rights of way?

Misleading and unlawful signs can deter people from lawfully exercising their right to use paths, and we have a duty to prevent such occurrences. We can be remove signs erected on a public right of way.

Signs erected affecting a public right of way but on adjacent land can be dealt with on application to the magistrates court. The magistrates may impose a fine, or order the offender to remove the sign on pain of a continuing fine for each day it remains. (Highways Act 1980 section 132 / National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 section 57)

Is it ok to hold competitions and speed trails on a Right of Way?

It is an offence to hold a motor vehicle race on a public highway without authority. This applies to footpaths and bridleways, as well as carriageways. (Road Traffic Act 1988 section 31)

What if a landowner has used or is using pesticides and herbicides on a Right of Way?

The use of a pesticide or herbicide on a Public Right of Way may endanger users of the route. The Health and Safety Executive advises that rights of way should not be oversprayed and that warning notices may be required to advise the public of the potential hazard, where such chemicals are used in the vicinity of a public right of way. (Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 section 3 / Highways Act 1980 section 161)

Where can I get leaflets for footpaths, bridleways, cycling routes, walks or rides in County Durham?

Tourist Information Centres and libraries.

Do we provide access for people with disabilities?

A simple stile can often prove to be a major obstacle for many people. The Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act 2000) requires highway authorities to have regard for the needs of people with mobility problems.

We operate a 'minimum barrier' policy, for new and diverted rights of way. Gaps are preferred to stiles, unless farm animals need to be kept out, in which case a wicket gate or kissing gate will be installed. Requests for the replacement of stiles by stock-proof kissing gates on existing footpaths will be considered favourably, although we cannot guarantee to be able to do so in all cases.

Who is responsible if I am injured because of dangers on a Right of Way?

Owners and occupiers of land crossed by public rights of way can be liable for injuries caused to path users by their negligence. For example, if a stile were to collapse under a walker, or if a path user were to be injured by an electric fence placed across a path, then the injured party may pursue a claim against the occupier of the land. (Occupiers Liability Act 1957)

As the highway authority for County Durham, we are responsible for the surface of Public Rights of Way. In certain circumstances, the county council will be liable for injury caused to people using a public right of way, if the injury is due to a negligent act regarding the surface of the path.

Please note that the surface will only need to be maintained to a standard fitting for its designated purpose.

Who is responsible for the clearance of litter and fly-tipping on a Right of Way?

Responsibility for the clearance of litter on a public right of way rests with the county council. If there is sufficient litter to amount to an obstruction, then we can also take action. (Environmental Protection Act 1990 sections 86 and 89)

Where do we sign Public Rights of Way?

We are required to erect a sign at the point that each public footpath, bridleway or byway leaves a metalled road. This is usually in the form of a wooden or metal fingerpost. The fingerpost will always indicate the status of the path.

Please note that some sealed surface paths in urban areas will not be signed.

Who is responsible for stiles and gates on footpaths and bridleways?

It is the duty of the landowner to ensure that any stiles and gates are kept in a good state of repair. Our duty only extends to ensuring that the landowner complies with this obligation and to provide a grant of 25% towards repairing or replacing such structures. (The Highways Act 1980 section 146)

If an occupier of land wishes to install additional stiles or gates on footpaths or bridleways, they must apply in writing to us for authority to do so. To erect stiles or gates without this authority is an unlawful obstruction and is a criminal offence. The only circumstance for which we can provide authorisation for the erection of new stiles or gates is that the structures are required for stock control purposes. (The Highways Act 1980 section 147)

Stiles and gates cannot be erected for security or other purposes and may be regarded as obstructions to the highway. Stiles and new additional gates cannot be erected on byways.

Who is responsible for the surfaces of Public Rights of Way?

As the highway authority for County Durham, we own the surface of all Public Rights of Way, the landowners' interest only extends to the sub-soil. It is an offence to interfere with the surface of a public right of way to the detriment of users and we have a duty to protect the interests of users and the Public Right of Way. We can take enforcement action to ensure the surface of Public Rights of Way unlawfully disturbed are reinstated.

Occupiers of land can disturb the surface of a right of way by special licence if they first apply to us to do so, and by statutory licence in respect of ploughing.

We are also responsible for ensuring that (undergrowth) vegetation growing in the surface of the Public Right of Way is kept under control and does not make the route difficult to use. Overgrowth - plants growing across the path from beside it - is the responsibility of the landowner.

Who is responsible for trees and branches that have fallen across a Right of Way?

If a tree or large branch falls across a Public Right of Way and causes an obstruction, the owner of the tree is responsible for its removal.

We will contact the owner of the tree and request that the branch is removed within a predetermined time. If the owner fails to comply with this request, we can serve notice on the owner of its intention to remove the branch and recover from the person the costs incurred. (Highways Act 1980 section 150 (4) (c))

What do the different coloured arrows on Waymarking mean?

We are required to provide signs along a Public Right of Way where users unfamiliar with the area may need guidance. The small arrows used to do this are known as waymarks. An agreed national colour scheme uses yellow arrows for public footpaths, blue arrows for bridleways and red arrows for byways open to all traffic. (Countryside Act 1968 section 27)

What exactly is a Public Right of Way?

A Public Right of Way is a route over which the public have a right to pass and re-pass. Public Rights of Way are more commonly known as:

  • Footpath: for use on foot only
  • Bridleway: for use by horses, pedal cycle or on foot
  • Byway: for use by motor vehicles, horses, pedal cycle or on foot

Public Rights of Way can be found in towns, villages and the countryside. Some paths may be surfaced and many are tracks across countryside owned by farmers and landowners. Public footpaths are not to be confused with highway footways, which are pavements to the side of the road.

What is a permissive path?

A permissive path (sometimes called a 'concessionary path') is that which the landowner permits the public to use, with the intention that it should not become a public right of way. The landowner may erect notices to that effect and perhaps, close the path once a year. To ensure that the public does not acquire a right of way, as might happen if a notice was removed and not replaced, the owner can take advantage of the alternative procedures.

Unofficial diversions of Public Rights of Way made by landowners can be regarded as permissive paths, though if the above procedures are not used, the new route may in time become a Public Right of Way.

Can I wander off a Public Right of Way?

No, the legal right to pass relates solely to the right of way. Landowners can require you to leave land to which you have no right of access. However, you may take a short route around an illegal obstruction, or remove it sufficiently to get past it.

Can I cut back vegetation from a path or stile?

You may carry a pair of pocket secateurs to cut back only the vegetation that impedes progress along a path, providing that no more than necessary is done to enable you to make your way conveniently along the path. If anything more than this is done, for example you go out with the express intention of clearing a particular path, equipped with tools such as a saw, spade or pick-axe, this risks going beyond what is necessary to enable convenient progress.

Can I ride a horse or a bike on a footpath?

No, not without the prior consent of the landowner, otherwise you would be committing trespass against the landowner or occupier concerned.

Can I take a pram, pushchair or wheelchair on a Right of Way?

Yes, if it is practicable as they are considered a 'usual accompaniment' of a person on foot.

Must a footpath be used once a year to keep it open?

Even if no-one has used it for years, it will still remain a Right of Way. If highway rights can be shown to have existed, they can only be stopped up by a legal process, even if no-one has used them in living memory. 'Once a highway, always a highway'.

What is a green lane?

"Green lane" is a descriptive, not a legal term used to describe an unsurfaced lane, usually with hedges on both sides. They may be either public or private. Many green lanes which do carry public vehicular rights are not recorded on the Definitive Map as they are either recorded as unclassified roads or not recorded at all. Byways, bridleways and footpaths can all be green lanes. A green lane does not necessarily have vehicular rights.

What if I trespass?

If people knowingly or unknowingly stray off a Public Right of Way onto other land against the owner's wishes and without the legal right to do so, they are trespassing. The landowner can ask them to leave or have them removed.

Do riders, walkers and cyclists have equal rights on bridleways?

Horse riders and walkers have equal rights on bridleways, but cyclists are only allowed to use bridleways as of right provided they give way to pedestrians and horse riders. (Section 30, Countryside Act 1968)

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Ploughing and cropping

Can landowners grow crops on and plough up Public Rights of Way?

Where a crop (other than grass) has been planted or sown on land crossed by a Public Right of Way, the occupier has a duty to ensure that the line on the ground of the public right of way is indicated to not less than the minimum width (one metre for footpaths and two metres for bridleways on cross field routes; 1.5 metres for footpaths and three metres for bridleways on field edge routes). Additionally, the occupier has a duty to prevent the crop from encroaching within that width throughout the growing season. Failure to fulfil this duty is a criminal offence. (Rights of Way Act 1990 section 137A)

In some circumstances, occupiers of land are entitled to plough Public Right of Way, if it is not reasonably convenient to avoid them. This only applies to cross-field footpaths and bridleways. Field edge (or "headland" footpaths and bridleways) should never be ploughed. Byways should never be ploughed, whatever their location - field edge or cross field. Where a cross-field footpath or bridleway is ploughed, it must be reinstated within the "statutory time limit" otherwise a criminal offence is committed. Reinstatement means indicating it on the ground and making the surface reasonably convenient for public use, to not less than the statutory minimum width. In respect of footpaths the minimum width is one metre, and two metres for bridleways.  The "statutory time limit" is 14 days for the first disturbance of the cropping cycle and 24 hours for any further disturbance such as harrowing and drilling. (Rights of Way Act 1990 section 134)

How wide is a public path and what width should the footpath be reinstated to?

Each Public Right of Way may have a legal width recorded for part or all of the route, and in these cases this width should always be available. Where paths cross cultivated (arable) land and a width is not specified, a guide to the minimum width that the path should be re-instated to is available below:

  • cross-field footpath - one metre
  • field-edge footpath - 1.5 metres
  • cross-field bridleway - two metres
  • field-edge bridleway - three metres
  • cross-field byway - three metres
  • field-edge byway - five metres

Please be aware that these minimum widths apply to arable land only and only where no other width for the path is recorded. It is the farmers' or landowners' responsibility to ensure that all Public Rights of Way that pass over land they occupy and cultivate (under their care) are maintained to the standards required by law. If you are in any doubt about the width of paths, please contact your local Rights of Way Officer.

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Animals

Can bulls be kept in a field crossed by a Right of Way?

It is an offence for the occupier of land crossed by a Public Right of Way to allow a bull over 10 months old and on its own and/or any bull of a recognised dairy breed (even if accompanied by cows/heifers) to be at large on the land. Bulls which are less than 10 months old, or of a recognised beef breed and at large with cows/heifers are exceptions to this rule.

If any animal, which is known to be dangerous by the keeper of the animal, causes injury to a member of the public using a Public Right of Way, an offence may be committed and the occupier could be sued by the injured party. (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 section 59)

Are dogs allowed on Public Rights of Way?

Dogs are allowed on Public Rights of Way, but they must be kept under close control at all times. There is no requirement in law for a dog to be on a lead. A path user who allows a dog to wander off the Right of Way becomes a trespasser and owners and occupiers have a right to ask them to leave the land. If a dog is likely to wander off the line of the path, or to worry livestock, the owners are advised to keep the dog on a lead. The fouling of a path by a dog may be an offence under a bylaw and is in any case a hazard to health. To report this or for more information contact us.

What can I do about intimidating dogs on a Right of Way?

It is an offence to keep a dangerous or intimidating dog on a Public Right of Way. It may also be considered a 'public nuisance'. The landowner will be requested to take action so that the dog no longer deters members of the public from using the right of way. We may also inform the police and will advise complainants to notify the police directly.

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Obstructions

What can I do about barbed wire across a Public Right of Way?

A barbed wire fence or exposed barbed wire, erected across a Public Right of Way without an adequate means of crossing, is an offence. It is an obstruction to the right of way and a nuisance and a danger to members of the public wishing to use the right of way.

We will ask the owner of the fence to remove it immediately or, if it is necessary for agriculture, to provide an adequate means of crossing it on the line of the path. The latter will require authorisation by us, as it would constitute a new stile (see Guidance on stiles and gates). If the owner fails to agree to either of these courses of action, we will remove the barbed wire where it affects the path, without further notice. If the owner continues to commit further offences of this nature, we will consider prosecution for obstruction.

What can I do if I come across an electric fence across a Public Right of Way?

An electric fence erected across a Public Right of Way without a safe means of crossing is an offence. It is an obstruction to the right of way and a nuisance and danger to members of the public wishing to use the right of way.

We will ask the owner of the electric fence to remove it immediately or, if it is necessary for agriculture, to provide an adequate means of crossing it on the line of the path. The latter will require authorisation by the county council, as it would constitute a new stile. If the owner fails to agree to either of these courses of action, we can remove the electric fence where it affects the path without further notice. If the owner continues to commit further offences of this nature the we will consider prosecution for obstruction. (Highways Act 1980 section 137, 137Z, and 149)

What about obstructions and encroachments which can be readily removed?

We have a duty at statute law to remove all obstructions and encroachments to Public Rights of Way. (The Highways Act 1980 section 130)

We also has a common law right to remove anything that it believes constitutes an obstruction, danger or encroachment without consultation with any other party. We deal with obstructions firstly by consultation and dialogue, requesting the offender to remove the obstruction. Depending on circumstances, offenders are normally given up to four weeks to comply. This informal notice will be confirmed in writing. If after that period, the offender has failed to comply, formal legal notice is served requiring the offender to remove the obstruction within a specified time. When that time expires, we will remove the obstruction and recover costs from the offender.

We would consider prosecution for obstruction for any subsequent offence, as well as taking the direct action outlined above. (The Highways Act 1980 section 143)

What if obstructions and encroachments are more permanent?

It sometimes happens that a permanent structure is erected on a Public Right of Way and an unofficial diversion put in place by the landowner or occupier. We have a duty at statute law to remove all obstructions and encroachments to Public Rights of Way. (The Highways Act 1980 section 130)

We deal with obstructions firstly by consultation and dialogue with the landowner/occupier, who will be given the opportunity to apply for a diversion of the path. If, after a certain period of time, no application is made, we will commence enforcement proceedings against the offender in the Magistrates Court. The Magistrates can make an order requiring the offender to remove the obstruction within a specified time period and impose an ongoing fine if the offender fails to remove the obstruction. (The Highways Act 1980 section 137 and 137Z)

What if someone uses intimidation or threatening behaviour intended to deter use of a Public Right of Way?

The use of intimidating behaviour with the intention of deterring the use of a Public Right of Way is possibly an offence and may amount to obstruction of the path. In the first place, we will seek to address any underlying issues which have lead to the situation arising. We may then issue a warning to the offender and involve the police as appropriate. (Public Order Act 1986 section 4)

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Responsibilities

What responsibilities do people have?

Users of Public Rights of Way:

  • to follow the Country Code
  • enjoy the countryside and respect its life and work
  • guard against all risk of fire
  • leave all gates as found
  • keep your dogs under close control
  • keep to Public Rights of Way across farmland
  • use gates and stiles to cross fences, hedges and walls
  • leave livestock, crops and machinery alone
  • take your litter home
  • help to keep all water clean
  • protect wildlife, plants and trees
  • take special care on country roads
  • make no unnecessary noise

County council as highway authority:

  • to maintain the surfaces of rights of way including the control of natural vegetation, to allow rights to be exercised
  • to assist farmers and landowners with the maintenance of approved stiles and gates
  • to signpost footpaths, bridleways and byways where they leave a metalled road
  • to maintain some bridges crossed by rights of way
  • to receive complaints and take appropriate action
  • to assert and protect the rights of the public to use and enjoy rights of way

County council as surveying authority:

  • to maintain and revise the Definitive Map and Statement of rights of way
  • to make available the Definitive Map and Statement in county council offices, and to supply relevant extracts to parish councils

Farmers and landowners:

  • to know where rights of way cross their land and have respect for them
  • to keep rights of way clear of obstructions and overhanging vegetation
  • to maintain stiles and gates across footpaths, and gates across bridleways to county council specifications (with the assistance of maintenance authorities)
  • not to place new fences, ditches, stiles or gates (other than replacements) across rights of way, or install new bridges or culverts along rights of way, without permission of the relevant maintenance authority
  • To restore the surface of any crossfield footpath or bridleway which has been ploughed or disturbed to at least the minimum width so that it is reasonably convenient to use and apparent on the ground, within 14 days (or 24 hours of any subsequent disturbance)
  • not to plough or disturb the surface of crossfield footpaths and bridleways where it can conveniently be avoided. Not to plough any footpath or bridleway which constitutes a headland, in other words a field edge
  • not to plough any Byway Open to all traffic or road used as a public path
  • Not to allow any prohibited bull in a field through which a right of way passes.
  • not to erect misleading signs likely to deter use of rights of way
  • not to remove or alter the direction of rights of way signs and waymarks
  • not to allow barbed or electrified wire to cross through stiles, or run adjacent to rights of way, which could injure users keeping to the correct routes
  • electrified fencing should be insulated appropriately
  • to ensure that rights of way are restored following permitted drainage schemes

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Making changes to a public right of way

How do I go about diverting a path on my land?

It is an offence to physically divert or close a path, even temporarily, without lawful authority and anyone who does so runs the risk of action being taken against them. A diversion or extinguishment of a Public Right of Way can arise only out of legal action by either a local authority, magistrates court or a government department or through an Act of Parliament.

The process of diverting or closing a right of way is a public one, and is designed to ensure that the public are made aware of the change that is proposed and that anyone who wishes to do so has the opportunity to state their views and have them taken into account before a final decision is made. Consequently the process of diverting or closing a right of way is lengthy and may involve considerable expense.

If you would like to apply to divert of extinguish a right of way across your land, you should contact us for an initial discussion.

Can you tell me if there are any rights of way running across the land I'm about to buy? We are thinking of buying a property but there is a path alongside - is it a public footpath?

The Definitive Map is the legal record of the Public Rights of Way within Durham County. If a way is shown on the Definitive Map then it is conclusive evidence of public rights along the way unless there has been a legally authorised change. The Definitive Map however, may not show the full picture, as there may be additional rights over land, which have not yet been recorded.

Questions relating to public rights of way are now compulsory as part of the Local Land Charges search process

I am considering submitting a planning application, for an extension of my property, to the county council. Is it true that planning permission allows me to divert an affected public right of way on my property?

No. You are advised to contact us before submitting the application, to discuss the proposed development.

It is the responsibility of the applicant to also make an application, under The Town and Country Planning Act 1990, to us (as the planning authority) to extinguish or divert public rights of way to allow the development to take place. Applications should be made to us, forming part of the planning application, or at the latest, as soon as planning consent is granted.

Under the Highways Act 1980 is an offence to obstruct or disturb the surface of any Public Right of Way during the course of the works, unless the path is the subject of a confirmed diversion or extinguishment order and an approved, certificated, alternative route is available to the public. Completion of the development, resulting in the obstruction of a public right of way, will constitute an offence under the Highways Act 1980, and may result in the county council taking legal action against you. This could include enforcing the removal of the obstruction.

Diversions, extinguishment and planning related matters

Paths may be diverted, created or extinguished providing they meet with the legislative criteria. There are two main pieces of legislation used to alter paths:

  1. Highways Act 1980
  2. Town and Country Planning Act 1990

For a diversion to be successful it must meet these criteria:

  • it must be in the interest of the owner/occupier of the land
  • the alternative route must not be substantially less convenient
  • the alternative route must not detract from the overall enjoyment of the path as a whole

For an extinguishment to be successful it must meet these criteria:

  • the route must be shown to be unnecessary
  • the route must be shown to be no longer required for public use

Town and Country Planning Act 1990 legislation is used where planning permission has been granted for development to take place. Although the diversion of a path under this Act is a separate process from the consideration of the planning application, there is a presumption that the diversion will succeed owing to the validity of the planning permission. However an application could fail if the development is substantially complete before the diversion is considered or the alternative route is shown to be substantially less convenient or, of course, it isn't necessary to allow the development to take place.

Contact us
Access and Rights of Way
03000 265 342
Our address is:
  • Regeneration and Economic Development
  • Durham County Hall
  • Durham
  • County Durham
  • United Kingdom
  • DH1 5UQ
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