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A common rights of way issue raised by constituents concerns the options available for formalising a right of way.

This note highlights a variety of relevant legal provisions and procedures and provides a summary timeline of the key legislative acts which have shaped the classifications of rights of way since 1949. The options available depend on how the path came to be of use in the first place and if it has any official classification on the Definitive Map for the area. The Definitive Map records all recognised rights of way.

The most common way that rights of way come into existence is by presumed dedication. There is a long established principle that long use by the public without challenge can constitute evidence that the landowner intended to dedicate the used route as a public right of way. Presumed dedication can take place by common law or statute law. Statute law requires a period of use of 20 years from the point the use of the path is brought into question. Common law dedication may require less time.

Overall, the rights of way officer at the relevant local authority will be the most appropriate person to contact regarding clarification of the status of any path in question as well the required procedures to make changes to the Definitive Map.


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