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Public access to private land

Introducing Public Access to Private Land

There are several practical considerations for landowners thinking of introducing public access to private land.

The impact to the capital value of the land

Capital values will often be diminished by introducing public access to private land.  Privacy is often a key driver in purchase decisions, therefore any perceived reduction in privacy could well be mirrored by a reduction in value.  That said, reasons such as diversification into a public facing or trading business can make the introduction of public access financially desirable.

Risk management

The Health and Safety Executive reported that between 2020 and 2021, 11 people were killed by livestock while 2 were killed by falling trees and branches. Careful thought should therefore be given to the level of management required to ensure public access is introduced efficiently, effectively, and safely, including:

  • the assessment of all public access routes / areas for matters such as tree safety
  • the management of members of the public with dogs on land with livestock – particularly so when youngstock are present
  • the quantity, types, and wording of signage and way markers required

Public access options

Having given due consideration to the practical implications of introducing public access, and the desire to do so remains, there are several ways that this can be achieved, depending on the desired outcome for the landowner. Some of the most common ways include:

  • Dedicating land as public open access

Once a parcel of land is dedicated as public open access, there are no restrictions over where members of the public can access.

  • Creating statutory public rights of way

A statutory right of way allows members of the public to take access but restricts that access to specific routes.  Landowners can apply for temporary closures of these rights of way; however, the applications have an accompanying fee and the length of time that the closure can be for will be determined by the County Council or Unitary Authority.

  • Creating permissive rights of way

Much like statutory public rights of way, permissive rights of way restrict access to specific routes.  Though as they are permissive, they can be closed or varied at the landowner’s discretion without having to pay a fee or apply to the County Council or Unitary Authority.

A word to the wise!

Once land is dedicated as public open access, or statutory public rights of way are created, the legal maxim of ‘once a right of way always a right of way’ comes into force.  Therefore, careful consideration must be given to which of the above approaches to take, as such changes cannot be reversed or easily altered.

For further advice regarding allowing public access to private land, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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