Rights of Way - Obstructions

There is no general rule applying to the width of public rights of way. When we decide whether there has been an encroachment, we look at historical documents, the distance between boundaries such as hedges or fences, or other evidence that shows the usual width of the path.

If we don’t have any of this evidence, we would set the reasonable width as being enough for two users to pass. In the case of a footpath, this would be 2 metres, for a bridleway, 3 metres and for a byway, 5 metres.

An encroachment into the width of a public right of way is a criminal offence. 

An encroachment is an unlawful obstruction or narrowing of the highway. We will investigate all allegations of encroachment on a public right of way.

First, we’ll decide whether an encroachment has occurred and whether it’s affecting the right of way, or may affect it in future. If we think that encroachment has occurred, but that it doesn’t affect the path or the rights of users, we’ll tell the person responsible that their actions are unlawful and any further encroachment will lead to enforcement action which will remove the whole encroachment.

If we think that the encroachment significantly affects the right of way and the rights of users, we will contact the person responsible and ask them to remove the encroachment. We’ll give them a reasonable deadline to do this. If they don’t, we’ll start enforcement action.

Depending on circumstances, offenders are normally given 7 days to remove an obstruction. (If the obstruction is dangerous, we’ll take direct action.) This informal notice will be confirmed in writing. If the offender fails to comply, we’ll serve a formal legal notice requiring the offender to remove the obstruction within a specified time. If the obstruction still hasn’t been removed, we’ll remove it and recover costs from the offender. We’ll also consider prosecution if they do it again.

If a tree or large branch falls across a public right of way, the removal of the branch or tree is the responsibility of the owner of the tree. Please contact us if you see a tree or branch blocking a right of way.

We’ll contact the owner of the tree and ask them to remove the obstruction within a reasonable time. If they don’t, we’ll remove the branch/tree and recover our costs from the owner.

Also see our page about fences.

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