Public right of way - the wide view

Posted: 26th April 2016

PathwayPublic rights of way, many of them ancient, are not always obvious and finding out about them is one of the reasons why land conveyancing is a job for professionals. In one case, a couple who made a wrong assumption about the width of a footpath passing their home ended up in a costly legal tangle.

The couple had erected various structures in the mistaken belief that the right of way was only four feet wide. However, their local authority disagreed – arguing that it had a width of six to seven metres – and sought an injunction against them, requiring them to remove those structures which impinged on the path.

The width of the right of way was not given on the area’s definitive map but, after examining documents dating back to the 19th and early 20th Centuries, a judge ruled that the right of way was a track with a width of six metres which had historically served a number of agricultural and wheelwrights’ cottages. In those circumstances, the couple gave undertakings to remove the offending structures.

In refusing their application for permission to appeal against the judge’s ruling, the Court of Appeal found that he had extremely good reasons for deciding that the track was plainly much wider than four feet. Arguments that the track had ceased to be a public right of way were also rejected.