What to expect
The surface of a public right of way should be easy and safe to use. It is usual for paths in rural areas not to have been 'made up' and consist of the natural soil only; some mud, vegetation and unevenness is to be expected on these paths, which will change with the seasons.
Who is responsible?
In most cases we have control over the surface of the public right of way, but in some cases public rights of way run along farmers tracks or private drives; in these cases the landowner or occupier may also be liable for the surface.
Private rights of way are not our responsibility. If you have a question about a private right of way or easement, you should contact your solicitor or Citizen's Advice Bureau.
Vehicles and rights of way
Landowners and occupiers may have private rights to use motorised vehicles on tracks and private drives which are also public rights of way. It is an offence to drive a motorised vehicle (or motorcycle) on a footpath or bridleway unless you have the landowner's permission or have a private right of way. Landowners/occupiers and those using their vehicles are usually responsible for repairs needed to wear and tear.
Where rights of way deteriorate through the natural wear and tear of use, or erosion from weather, we may need to carryout repairs to the surface of the path to keep it open for use. There are always more repairs than budget, so there can be a substantial backlog of repairs awaiting attention.
Sometimes it is necessary to close a path for safety reasons whilst awaiting works or whilst works are carried out.
Although we are not required to, we always attempt to contact effected landowners before we carry out major repairs on a right of way.
Landowners and occupiers must seek our approval before carrying out any work to the surface of a right of way (except when ploughing an agricultural field – see our page on vegetation). When repairing wear and tear, we can sometimes assist landowners with a small financial contribution or a supply of suitable materials (when available).
Tarmac on private drives is particularly a concern where the route is also a public bridleway as it can be very slippery for horses.
If a landowner wishes to change the surface type of a way which is also a footpath or bridleway (for example from gravel to tarmac) they may need Planning Consent from the borough or district council in addition to consent from us.
What happens next?
When reporting a path surface needing attention, your report will be forwarded to the area Countryside Access Officer; who will need to inspect the site.
Unless the repair required is needed urgently on safety grounds it is likely that the problem will be added to a waiting list of works. We will prioritise our repairs to those routes which have the most public use, where there is greatest risk to the public, or where a repair/improvement has the greatest potential for improved public enjoyment.
When requesting our consent to carry out your own works to the surface of a public right of way the area Countryside Access Officer will need to discuss your proposals with you, and may also need to visit the site.