07 December 2016 by Eugene Suggett
Claiming an unrecorded right of way helps ensure a path is protected for public use, both now and in the future. Our senior policy officer, Eugene Suggett shares a recent example of how you can claim an unrecorded way.
Collaboration between the Ramblers and other public-spirited bodies is a good thing. Such collaborations can even end with new rights of way being added to the map.
A pleasing example for me during the past couple of years has been with Woodbastwick Parish Council in Norfolk. Woodbastwick parish includes the villages of Ranworth and Panxworth near the South Walsham, Malthouse and Ranworth Broads on the edge of Bure Marshes National Nature Reserve - prime walking country indeed.
Parishioners & Ramblers walk through a meadow along the new way ©Sue Walker
The Parish Council have proved that two attractive paths, 1.5km in all, walked by locals till lately, are in fact public rights of way. They run from Panxworth and its ruined church, to Ranworth near South Walsham Broad, along the meadows north of Panxworth Carrs.
Any person with the right evidence – under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – can apply to have a closed path put on to the definitive map and statement of public rights of way. This is how you prove a route is, or has become, public.
Woodbastwick’s application was made to Norfolk County Council, the authority for keeping definitive maps up-to-date, and for determining claims that ways should be shown on them. The council must be satisfied that there has been such use by the public, ‘as of right’, as to give rise at common law to the inference of dedication of the way as public, or else they have to be satisfied that there has been 20 years’ uninterrupted use by the public ‘as of right’, as to qualify for ‘deemed dedication’ under the Highways Act 1980. The claim will of course fail if countering evidence is produced to show that there was no intention to dedicate the way as public.
Norfolk County Council accepted that there was enough evidence – old maps and other documents, and people testifying to their use of the paths – to give rise to a ‘reasonable allegation’ of the ways’ public status. At this point, anyone can object, and landowners, as here, often do. It then usually goes to a public inquiry, where the county council presents the case of the route, and the objectors present the case against. An independent inspector from the Planning Inspectorate hears the evidence and makes a ruling.
Parishioners & Ramblers walk through along the new way that has been mown ©Sue Walker
In this case, the County Council declined to present the case, so it fell to the Parish Council to present the case for adding the route. This is no easy task, since this is an area of the law which has over a couple of hundred years – including right up to the present day – been subject to a complicating set of rulings by the courts. Meanwhile the objectors were represented by a firm of solicitors justifiably noted for their expertise in this specialised subject. Could the Ramblers help?, Sue Hitchcock, Chair of the Parish Council, asked Ian Mitchell, Area Footpath Secretary in Norfolk.
Happily for those who seek to protect rights of way, there is a species of person called a Rights of Way Consultant. One of these is the expert Sue Rumfitt, of Sue Rumfitt Associates. Sue is (among other things) a past president of the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management (‘IPROW’). Through our GB office, the Ramblers acquired Sue’s services. Sue’s fees were met by contributions from the Ramblers Norfolk Area, and from our Norwich, Great Yarmouth, and Wensum Groups, as well as from an anonymous donor. With her usual mixture of knowledge, skill, professionalism, and expertise, Sue presented our case and won the inquiry, with the Inspector finally confirming the order in January 2016. Sue said: “The combination of Ian's expertise and the parish council’s local knowledge worked really well.” Since then, the ways have been re-opened and signposted, and to the delight of locals and visitors, are back in regular use.
Snipping the tape across the gate at the start of the new way © K.James Deveson
Want to find out more about claiming an unrecorded right of way? Take a look at our guidance.