Person from the back, wearing yellow raincoat, walking along a path on the side of a field with yellow flowers

What is a Highways Statement and how does it work?

Over the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, there has been an increase in members of the public enjoying the countryside and public access over privately owned land.

With this increased use of public rights of way it is important that landowners take steps to ensure that new public highways (public rights of way) aren’t dedicated over their land. There are relatively simple steps which can be taken to try to reduce the risk, such as erecting signs stating there is no public access and keeping gates closed and locked to prevent access.

Still, these steps do come with their own limitations; there is however a relatively simple formal process which offers protection and involves the submission of a Highway Statement to the Local Authority.

How are public highways created?

If members of the public can establish use of a route over land (and this can be as informal as walking a path across a field) for an uninterrupted period of 20 years, and that use is without force, secrecy or the landowner’s permission, then it will be presumed that a public highway (i.e. a public right of way) has been established.

What is a Highways Statement?

Under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980 a landowner can deposit an application known as a Highways Statement with the Local Authority declaring which public rights of way currently exist over their land (if any) and that no additional public rights of way, or none at all, have been dedicated over their land.

How does it work?

The Highways Statement makes it clear that the landowner has not dedicated any land as a public highway which rebuts the presumption that a public highway was intended to be created through uninterrupted use. Notice of the Statement is then published on the Local Authority website and a physical notice erected on the entrance to the land or near the boundary.

I have previously submitted a Highways Statement – am I protected?

A Statement deposited with the Local Authority prior to 1st October 2013 needs to be updated within 10 years, a Statement deposited after that date within 20 years. In order to continue to rebut the presumption that a public highway was intended to be dedicated over the land it is important to update the Statement by depositing a Highways Declaration with the Local Authority within the relevant time period (10/20 years).

It is also important to note that a Statement or subsequent Declaration rebuts the presumption, effectively resetting the 20 year clock, and does not stop time accruing towards the required 20 year period altogether.

The important distinction being that the 20 year period necessary to dedicate a new public highway starts accruing from the time the use by members of the public starts and could start immediately after a Statement is deposited rather than freezing time until 20 years after the Statement was deposited.

It is therefore important to ensure a Declaration is deposited within the relevant time period to continue to prevent a new public highway being created.

If you would like advice on Highways Statements and public rights of way, please get in touch with our Rural team below.