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Reporting obstructions (England and Wales)

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What's the best thing to do if you find your favourite bridleway or byway impassable because of a fallen tree, or a gate that wasn't there before? This guide explains the process.
Obstruction on bridleway
Obstruction on bridleway

Taking matters into your own hands

  • You are entitled to take reasonable steps to remove an obstacle in your way.
  • It would probably be reasonable to cut back overhanging vegetation with secateurs, or to break a lock on a locked gate, but it would not be reasonable to take away an unlocked gate, as opening it would sufficiently clear the path to allow you to pass. A highway user can only remove as much of the obstruction “as is necessary to exercise his right of passing along the highway”.
  • Removing too much, for instance by cutting back too much vegetation, is a statutory offence under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1970, and the owner would be permitted to sue for damages.
  • Obstructions that cannot be dealt with at the time should be reported, either to the landowner, or to the local highway authority.

Reporting an obstruction

Involving the landowner

  • The simplest means of clearing an obstruction is to report it to the landowner. If they appear willing to act, then there may well be no need to notify the authority and go through the legal process. In most cases, approaching the landowner directly will foster good relations between highway users and landowners.
  • Local, parish and community councils have no duties in respect of rights of way, but a proactive council may use its considerable powers to assist in clearing the obstruction.
  • It is always worth contacting local and national user groups, such as CTC,  Ramblers, or the British Horse Society for their help and advice. They may well have a local contact who can assist you, or even take on the case.

Involving the highway authority

  • If all else fails, members of the public can apply to have an obstruction removed by making a formal request to the local highway authority.
  • The procedure is laid out in section 63 of CRoW, and sections 130a-130d of the Highways Act 1980. You can download a form from Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Form 1), or can write a letter to the authority.
  • When faced with an obstruction, note down:a description; its exact location, with a grid reference if possible; the time and date it was encountered; and the name and address of any witnesses. If possible, the letter or form should include the way’s details on the definitive map and the name and address of the landowner. A sketchmap can also be helpful. Send your report by recorded post to the Chief Executive of the highway authority, and keep a copy for your records.

What happens next?

The authority has one month in which to contact the landowner, requesting action to clear the obstruction. They should then write to you to let you know what they've done.

If the obstruction has not been removed two months after the authority was informed, then you may apply to the Magistrate’s Court for an Order to remove the obstruction. You must first write to the local authority and five days later may apply to the court. There is a six month period from first notification in which to do this.

It is highly advisable to speak to a lawyer if you are considering getting a Magistrate’s Order, as the procedure can be complicated and time consuming. Alternatively, it is possible to coax authorities into action without resorting to the courts, by writing to councillors, committee chairmen or cabinet members. It is also possible to ask the local council to pressurise the authority to act. If a local council asks the highway authority to remove an obstruction, and it is not removed, then the council can apply to the Magistrate’s Court for an Order.

Further reading

CTC's views on obstructions on rights of way in England and Wales, are explained in our campaigns briefing Obstructions and 'out of repair' Rights of Way.'

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