Do You Allow Public Access to Your Land? Beware!

Many people might think it neighbourly for landowners to allow members of the public to take short cuts across their land. However, such kindness can have unforeseen consequences, as one High Court case vividly revealed.

A homeowner drew objections when he erected metal gates to block off a one metre wide alleyway which ran beside his property and which had been used by residents as a convenient route to the local shops. Following a public inquiry, a planning inspector accepted that the alleyway had been used as a thoroughfare for more than 20 years and that it should be formally classified as a public footpath.

The homeowner pointed out that a door across the alleyway had for many years been locked from time to time, particularly at Christmas, to deter vandals. However, the inspector found that such brief interruptions to access were insufficient and that the alleyway had been ‘dedicated’ for public use by previous owners of the land. In dismissing the homeowner’s appeal, the Court ruled that the inspector had reached a perfectly rational conclusion on the particular facts of the case.