An owner of an estate was recently successful in preventing the creation of a public right of way, thanks to a previous owner who had disputed a planning enquiry nearly 30 years previously.
The dispute involved a pathway which a local planning inspector decided should be designated a public right of way. The title to the land was not registered and the ownership of the path was not certain, but the current owner of the estate claimed ownership.
A public enquiry had been held in 1978 to determine whether or not a bridleway existed over the same route, and the owner's predecessor had objected to its use as a bridleway.
When the recent attempt to reclassify the land occurred, the local authority inspector dealing with it considered that although there was insufficient use of the path for it to be dedicated as a public right of way under the Highways Act 1980, the estate owner had not taken sufficient steps to prevent the public use of the pathway and it should therefore be regarded as a public right of way under common law.
The estate owner appealed to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the inspector had taken insufficient account of the 1978 objection, which had largely dealt with the same issues as the new objection. The Court accepted this argument. It was not necessarily reasonable for the owner of the land to have to reiterate the 1978 objections at the new enquiry.
The owner could probably have resolved the matter more easily had the path been posted with a sign indicating that it was not a public right of way. In this case, the day was saved because the previous owner of the estate had made objections against a similar listing.