Landowners’ pernicious path-plans

The Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) today published pernicious plans for public paths in its report The Right Way Forward. The CLA’s talk about ‘modernising’ the access system is a lightly-veiled promotion of their own selfish interests.

The Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers roundly condemned the proposals.  The CLA wants landowners to have powers to move ancient highways when it suits them, away from farmyards, gardens or businesses. There is no mention that paths were there long before these modern activities. It’s the activity which should accommodate the path, not the other way round. Our paths have existed since time immemorial. Yet too many are abused by cropping, ploughing and obstruction, all too often by landowners and their tenants. The CLA is big on what the local councils and path users should do—signposting, waymarking, good behaviour, etc. It doesn’t mention landowners’ bad behaviour in blocking paths, planting crops on them, and intimidating users with big gates and CCTV cameras.

The CLA advocates permissive rather than legal paths but these flexi-paths are not in the public interest. People need to be certain of where they can go; in other words, the path must be a public highway. Then they know it can’t be stopped up or moved without due process, and that the highway authority has a duty to maintain it. Permissive paths can come and go with no protection. They may suit landowners but not the users.


The CLA wants a fixed width for the myriad of paths with no defined width—but the CLA’s proposed widths are mean. Users need the space to pass each other comfortably and not be squeezed up against barbed-wire fence or sprouting hedge.

The CLA reneges on an agreement it reached with other interests only two years ago. It calls for an immediate halt to claims for ancient paths, revoking the age-old rule ‘Once a highway always a highway’. Yet it signed an agreement with users and local authorities [Stepping Forward] which called on government to introduce measures to simplify and speed up the process for claiming paths. Ministers are still considering these, and must implement the proposals before there can be any halt to the opportunity for the public to claim ancient routes for the map.

The CLA uses weasel words like ‘simplifying’ and ‘modernising’ the system. But most of their proposals cut the protection which the system provides to the users.

What we need is for landowners to respect public paths, and acknowledge that the paths were there first, and for government and local authorities to recognise the immense public, health and economic benefits of the path network and to invest in it, in the interests of all.


About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Open country, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, Uncategorized, walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Landowners’ pernicious path-plans

  1. Carl Walters says:

    having had a little experience with moving a footpath, just something that may be worth thinking about. In my area, and many others, farms and footpaths came into being at a similar time and a lot of the footpaths originate from ‘the quickest way to church’ ‘the way the children went to school’ and the ‘most direct way from one farm to another’ etc. These paths were not necessarily intended to cope with the ‘traffic’ that they now get and, due to their origin, often go through farm yards. In those days farm yards were much safer places than they are today. Perhaps, in some cases, it is in the interest of both walkers and landowners/farmers to move paths a few yards so that they go round, rather than through such dangerous places instead of rigidly sticking to ‘once a highway, always a highway’ and in such cases a simpler system would be a good thing. Dont get me wrong, Im not advocating the removal of the process altogether, nor any restriction on footpath use, nor do I support the above plans, just a modernisation and simplification and some common sense so that paths can be safer for all.

  2. Yes, but these paths are a hugely important part of our social history. Some of us like walking in the steps of those who have gone before.

  3. Chris Beney says:

    Carl Walters uses the dreaded word pair ‘common sense’. Common sense is a smokescreen and very often wrong like in ‘the sun goes round the earth’. The CLA uses it excessively.

    If farmyards are dangerous it is because the farmer has made them so. Many farms have roads going through them, house, barn and hay ricks on different sides. Do they leave animals and machinery around on or by the vehicular road? So why do it for footpath and bridleway? Of the four of my local farms that come to mind with paths through them now or formerly, one has an excellent bridleway, one a satisfactory footpath, one formerly had a through path, but evidence is hard to come by and the (definitive) bypass until last year had a terrible stile and other informal obstructions. The fourth farmer has blocked the yard for years and the yard-bypass is a field with very thick mud heavy with horse dung and urine at this time of year. So on the limited basis of these four: farmyard good, bypass bad.

    Of course occasionally a diversion is in everyone’s interest, but when the CLA says that they think most footpaths should be just 3ft 3inches wide, I feel I am entitled to think their frequent use of the words common sense is more about smokescreens than about any kind of logic or fairness.

  4. Ed Kendrick says:

    Strong editorial suppport for campaignerkate v. CLA ‘The Right Way Forward’ in the new issue of Current Archaeology (May 2012, p. 48).

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