Duty on parish councils to keep footpaths open

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A parishioner recently asked the parish council to contact the county council on her behalf to require that a footpath which had been (unofficially) closed off some years ago  to be reopened - which the PC did.  This has infuriated other parishioners who live close by and would prefer it to remain closed.  They have asked the PC to support them in an application to have the footpath extinguished.  

The PC says that if a parishioner asks for support to keep a footpath open it has a legal responsibility  to assist, but no authority has been quoted for approach.  Can any-one pinpoint where this obligation might be set out?

asked by (550 points)

1 Answer

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There isn't a legal obligation on parish council's to keep open footpaths, however:

The district or county (depending on your tiers) due to have a duty to ensure they are open, they can't turn a blind eye to one that is inaccessible / closed. (Though a lack of funds may delay their actions).

The parish council may have entered into an (in)formal agreement to survey their footpaths and ensure they are correctly recorded, our parish council was asked to help confirm the records held by the district and highlight and errors or anomalies on their maps.

A parish does have a legal power to signpost a footpath if the district or count doesn't.

However, the Parish has acted correctly to inform the district / county about a closed footpath (there is no duty to, just proper governance). The parish can request that it is formally closed, but they have no more statutory footing to request it than an individual to request it of the district/county.

The parish has not 'taken sides' in this dispute, they have acted reasonably.
answered by (3.7k points)
If a footpath is recorded on the definitive map it is conclusively legal. The public's right to pass and repass along it at all times remains in perpetuity. The Highways Authority has a duty to maintain the surface of the path whilst the landowner is responsible for any overhanging vegetation. Also the HA must act if the path is obstructed. This can usually be actioned by the issuing a S130 notice on the Highways authority (anyone can do this)  . As I recall any extinguishment action would not be acted upon if the use of the path is still required by anyone.  So in this case it looks like the path will remain but I agree that the PC  has acted reasonably.
Thank you, that's helpful.  Given the strength of feeling in the Parish over this issue, it is a 'no win' situation for the Parish Council.  I'm interested in the point about the HA and the landowner.    The footpath in question is actually more of an alleyway between houses on an estate.  The original function was to connect to another footpath which ran across private farmland. Because the alleyway path has been closed for decades, the footpath that it  connected to has also fallen into disuse and  disappeared under undergrowth.  The Parish Council has indicated that it is prepared to pay for the reinstatement of this path if the landowner agrees.  Would the proper course of action be to serve a notice on the HA?
There appears to be two issues here viz the alley behind the houses and the public footpath which it connects to. You need firstly to establish what is currently shown on the definitive map. As I recall there can be situations whereby an alley could have been gated at either end for crime and disorder reasons and you will need to establish precisely what the current status is. As regards the separate path this should be “stand alone” as I presume it has a distinct termination point or does it only terminate via the alley way? Difficult to comment without knowing all the details.  If the alley and the path are on the definitive map then the HA must act. Equally they could entertain an application to close the alley but this must be backed up with evidence and support form the relevant stakeholders see https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/care-support-and-health/support-to-stay-at-home/alarms-safety-and-security/alleygating

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