Obstructions and 'out of repair' rights of way (England & Wales)

Cherry Allan's picture
Obstructions on rights of way are not good news for walkers and cyclists
Headline Messages: 
  • Obstructions, poor surfaces, bad drainage and rank vegetation often make the bridleway and byway network in lowland England and Wales difficult for cyclists to use and can even force them to abandon rides. It also puts people off the healthy and enjoyable activity of riding in the countryside.
Key facts: 
  • Rights of way (RoW) include footpaths, bridleways, byways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic (BOATs).
  • By law, highway authorities must ensure that their RoW are maintained in a state appropriate for the sort of traffic reasonably expected to use them. If they don’t, members of the public can use section 56 of the Highways Act 1980 (HA1980) to force them to act.
  • Landowners must remove unlawful obstructions, and highway authorities have to ensure that RoW are not obstructed. If an authority fails to do this, members of the public can use sections 130A-D (HA1980) to compel them to take action.
  • If an authority can prove that it has taken reasonable care to "secure that the part of the highway to which the action relates was not dangerous to traffic", it has a statutory defence under section 58 (HA1980) in the event of claims made against them.
  • Highways authorities do not have to do anything to facilitate the use of bridleways by cyclists. Byways and restricted byways, however, should be maintained for cycle use. 
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • Highway authorities should prioritise bridleways, byways, restricted byways and unsurfaced unclassified roads in their rights of way management and maintenance regimes. This is because these are multi-user routes, available to cyclists, horse riders and walkers. 
  • Hedgerow legislation should be strengthened to prevent the removal of field boundaries alongside bridleways, as the bridleway then becomes ‘cross field’ and may be ploughed. 
  • Where cross field paths are regularly ploughed, an uncultivated headland alternative should be made available.
  • Highway authorities should make sure that rights of way that go through fields are clearly signed to stop users encountering any obstructions that are not on the path.
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Publication Date: 
January 2015
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