Getting obstructions removed from paths
The legal process to follow to force local authorities to act
Advice relevant to England and Wales only. Find information about access rights in Scotland.
Keeping our network of paths free from obstructions
Local highway authorities (county councils and unitary authorities) are legally required to promote and protect the public's right to use and to enjoy public paths.
They have significant powers to help them meet this duty. For example, if a landowner refuses to remove an obstruction, they can apply for a court order requiring the landowner to remove the obstruction. They can also ask the court to issue fines. Courts can order the offending landowner to pay the council’s legal fees.
Unfortunately, this power is rarely used, usually because councils lack the necessary staff.
If you have repeatedly reported a problem to the local authority and no action has been taken you can use the law to force the council into action. However, undertaking legal proceedings can result in court costs being awarded against you. We therefore recommend you read this guidance carefully and consider whether the problem can be resolved without court action. We strongly advise seeking legal advice before making an application to the magistrates’ court.
Any member of the public can apply for a magistrates’ court order to force an authority to remove an obstruction on a public right of way. This includes footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic. This procedure is covered by section 130A-D of the Highways Act 1980.
It can only be used if the obstruction is not legally permitted. It must also be one of these three things:
a structure (for example a wall or fence)
something left on the path in a way that which causes a nuisance to users (for example, fly-tipped rubbish)
The procedure doesn’t apply to paths in the inner London boroughs. It also can’t be used if the obstruction is part of a building (temporary or permanent) or is a place for human habitation such as a tent or caravan. Building construction sites are also excluded. Finally, the procedure does not apply if the problem is due to the path’s surface being damaged.
How to take initial action
Your first step is to provide details of the obstruction to the local authority. Do this by completing Form 1 The form should be sent to the Chief Executive of the local authority by Recorded Delivery. At this stage the council must keep your identity confidential. Also, at this stage there is no risk of costs being awarded against you and you have no obligation to continue with the process beyond this step. Serving Form 1 to the council can encourage them to act without a court order.
Within 1 month of the date of Form 1, the local authority must respond and explain the action it proposes to take. It does this by completing Form 2 and serving it on the person who is believed to have caused the obstruction, and by completing Form 3 which it sends to you.
Proceeding to the magistrates’ court
If the obstruction has not been resolved via the exchange of Forms 1, 2 and 3 then you can apply to the magistrates’ court using Form 4. This must be done between 2 months and 6 months of the date of Form 1.
Form 1 can be issued free of charge and there’s no risk of costs being awarded against you. As the applicant, you have no obligation to continue with the process by going to the magistrates’ court if you choose to only issue Form 1. The highway authority is obliged to treat the identity of applicants confidentially at the initial stage.
Issuing Form 1 on its own often forces the council to act without needing to secure a court order.
You will need to be able to show the court that the obstruction is covered by this provision (see above), and that the path is a public right of way. You will also need to demonstrate that the obstruction significantly interferes with public rights over the path. Interference can include something that physically impedes the way, but it can also be due to psychological impact. For example, gates which suggest you are entering a private drive may act as a psychological deterrent.
Risk of failure
Remember there is a risk that the case will fail and that you will be liable for the costs.
In particular, magistrates will not make an order if the council is able to show that:
There is a serious dispute about whether the path in question is a public right of way
The council has no legal requirement to remove the obstruction
Arrangements have already been made ensure the obstruction is removed within a reasonable time
For these reasons we strongly advise seeking legal advice before making an application to the magistrates’ court. Contact the Ramblers Paths Team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have issued Form 1 and are considering taking the council to court.