Can A Public Footpath Be Closed

Can A Public Footpath Be Closed?

Imagine a sunny day when I decided to take a peaceful walk on my favorite walking path through beautiful green fields. Birds were singing, and the wind made the leaves rustle—it was my special place to connect with nature. But one day, I saw a sign that said the path was closed. I felt confused and sad. I wondered, can they really close a public footpath like this? To find out, I started learning about the rules and laws around public paths, the rights of landowners, and why it’s important to keep these paths open.

Yes, in the United Kingdom, a public footpath can be closed under specific circumstances, including for maintenance, safety reasons, or at the request of the landowner. However, the closure must follow legal procedures, including notifying the public and obtaining the necessary permissions. The closure should also be temporary, and alternative routes or access should be provided whenever possible.

Why Are Public Footpaths in the UK So Important?

Why Are Public Footpaths in the UK So Important

Public footpaths in the United Kingdom are more than just trails; they are a cherished part of the nation’s heritage, providing access to the breathtaking beauty of the countryside. These paths offer an opportunity to connect with nature, explore historical sites, and enjoy the outdoors. 

Public footpaths, often marked with distinctive waymarkers, are open to everyone, providing pedestrians with the right to access designated routes through fields, woods, and rural landscapes. They are a vital part of the public’s ability to enjoy the countryside and engage in recreational activities such as hiking, birdwatching, and dog walking. 

Users of public footpaths have the right to enjoy these routes, but they also carry certain responsibilities. It’s essential to respect the natural environment, close gates behind you, keep dogs under control, and avoid littering to preserve the beauty and integrity of these pathways.

One of the unique aspects of public footpaths in the UK is their allowance for access to privately owned land. Landowners are legally obligated to maintain public footpaths that cross their property, ensuring that these routes remain open and accessible. The preservation of public footpaths is a shared responsibility. 

Local authorities, government bodies, and conservation organizations work together to maintain and protect these routes, allowing everyone to enjoy the stunning landscapes and rich heritage that the UK countryside has to offer. The significance and legal framework of public footpaths are the first step in appreciating their value.

Can a public footpath in the UK be closed if it is not used?

In the UK, a public footpath cannot be closed solely on the grounds of non-use. Public footpaths remain open for public access unless specific legal procedures are followed, such as those related to maintenance, safety concerns, or landowner rights.

In the United Kingdom, public footpaths are considered public rights of way, and they are legally protected to ensure that the public can access them. The principle is that they should remain open and accessible to the public, regardless of how frequently they are used.

Closing a public footpath solely due to non-use would go against this fundamental concept. It’s because footpaths play an essential role in providing access to the countryside, allowing people to connect with nature, explore rural areas, and engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking. Even if a footpath is not used frequently, it still holds value for those who do wish to utilize it.

However, it’s important to note that there are circumstances where a public footpath might be temporarily or permanently closed, but these closures are typically governed by specific legal procedures. Common reasons for closure include maintenance work, safety concerns (such as during construction), or respecting the rights of landowners.

Temporary closures are meant to address short-term issues, and public notices are usually posted to inform people about alternative routes during these periods. Permanent closures, on the other hand, require a more comprehensive legal process, consultations, and justifications.

In short, while a public footpath may not see frequent use, it is not a valid reason for closing it. The principle of keeping these paths open for public access is deeply ingrained in the UK’s legal framework, preserving the right for people to enjoy the countryside and its natural beauty. This commitment to public footpaths underscores their importance in promoting outdoor recreation, physical well-being, and a connection to nature for all residents and visitors.

How long does it take for a public footpath to become ‘not public’ if a local council closes it?

The process for a public footpath to transition from being “public” to “not public” when a local council takes action is subject to specific legal regulations in the United Kingdom. 

To temporarily close a footpath, councils must adhere to legal procedures, posting notices to inform the public of the reasons and expected duration. Permanent closures, however, involve a more complex process, requiring consultations with various stakeholders, including the public, landowners, and relevant authorities. 

A strong justification is essential, demonstrating the closure’s alignment with the public interest and lawful considerations. Legal orders, such as Public Path Orders or Stopping Up Orders, are often necessary to formalize the closure and undergo formal approval processes, which may include public inquiries. 

The time frame for a footpath to become “not public” varies, influenced by factors like closure complexity, consultation requirements, objections, and legal processes. Temporary closures tend to be more straightforward and shorter, while permanent closures can take several months or longer due to the formal legal procedures and public scrutiny involved. 

It’s important to emphasize that closing a public footpath is a significant matter, and it must strictly adhere to legal requirements to safeguard public access rights and landowners’ interests, ensuring that any closure aligns with established legal procedures and regulations.

How does a footpath closure impact nearby residents and businesses?

The closure of a footpath, whether it’s a temporary disruption or a permanent change, carries a significant impact on the lives of nearby residents and the operations of local businesses. Reduced access and mobility for residents who rely on these paths for daily walks or commutes can disrupt routines and limit recreational opportunities. 

For businesses, especially those dependent on foot traffic, a closed footpath often means reduced customer flow, potentially leading to financial strain and economic challenges. Property values near well-used footpaths may also be affected, as the convenience and amenities associated with such locations diminish with closures. These closures can also disrupt community bonds, as footpaths serve as social connectors, fostering interaction and a sense of belonging among residents. 

In areas reliant on tourism, footpath closures can deter visitors, impacting local tourism businesses like hotels and restaurants. Additionally, closures can necessitate diversions, inconveniencing both residents and visitors who must take longer routes. Safety concerns may arise, with pedestrians forced to use less safe alternatives like busy roads. Residents and businesses might have legal rights and can challenge closures they deem unlawful or unfairly detrimental. 

On the flip side, footpath closures can also foster community engagement as residents and businesses collaborate to advocate for the paths’ reopening or proper maintenance. In essence, footpath closures have multifaceted repercussions that touch upon accessibility, economic well-being, property values, community bonds, tourism, safety, legal rights, and community engagement, necessitating careful consideration and balanced solutions to uphold public rights while mitigating adverse effects.

Public and Landowner Rights Regarding Public Footpaths

For the public, these pathways are, as the name suggests, open for walking and enjoyment, firmly grounded in the law to guarantee individuals the liberty to access and traverse these designated routes. This includes a fundamental right to access these paths for recreational pursuits like walking, hiking, and birdwatching. 

Moreover, it encompasses the responsibility to advocate for the upkeep and safety of these footpaths to sustain their accessibility and ensure their secure usage. Demonstrating respect for the natural environment, such as closing gates and avoiding littering while using public footpaths, is also integral to the code of conduct for users.

On the other hand, landowners possess vital rights concerning public footpaths intersecting their land. While they are mandated to grant public access, they retain specific entitlements to safeguard their interests. These encompass the right to maintain public footpaths to guarantee they remain accessible and secure. 

Additionally, landowners have the prerogative to enact temporary closures when safety concerns emerge, such as during construction projects or when other potential hazards arise. Landowners also have the chance to partake in consultations and negotiations regarding public footpath closures and diversions, permitting them a voice in the decision-making process.

Balancing these rights constitutes a multifaceted endeavor. Landowners may aspire to safeguard their property, while the public highly regards the access provided by footpaths. The mediation of disputes and the careful consideration of both parties’ interests by local authorities and organizations are often indispensable in preserving the value of these pathways.

What recourse do citizens have if they disagree with a footpath closure?

What recourse do citizens have if they disagree with a footpath closure

Citizens in the UK who find themselves at odds with a footpath closure have recourse options to express their dissent and seek resolution. These options include submitting objections or representations during the proposal stage, participating in public inquiries presided over by independent inspectors, or even pursuing a judicial review if they suspect the closure decision was unlawful or flawed. 

Additionally, some local authorities offer internal review mechanisms, allowing citizens to request a reevaluation of the decision. Engaging with elected representatives, like councillors or MPs, can aid in advocacy efforts, while actively participating in consultation processes allows citizens to voice their concerns. 

Collaboration with local footpath user groups can amplify their influence, and seeking legal advice from experts in public rights of way is an option for navigating the complex legal terrain. Initiating public awareness campaigns, petitions, or social media efforts can mobilize community support, and collaborating with affected parties such as neighboring landowners and businesses can enhance collective responses. 

Throughout the process, a respectful and constructive dialogue with relevant authorities and stakeholders remains crucial, often leading to more satisfactory outcomes and potential compromises in footpath closure disputes. While pursuing these recourse avenues, citizens should consider the unique circumstances, local regulations, and the potential impact of the closure on their community, aiming for a balanced and equitable resolution.


Can you close a public footpath?

Yes, it is possible to close a public footpath under certain circumstances. Public footpaths may be closed temporarily for maintenance, repairs, construction work, or for safety reasons.

What is a permissive footpath?

A permissive footpath is a route that landowners allow the public to use, even though there may not be a legal right of way. Access to these paths is at the landowner’s discretion and can be revoked.

Are horses allowed on public footpaths in the UK?

No, horses are generally not allowed on public footpaths in the UK. Public footpaths are typically reserved for pedestrians, and equestrians should use bridleways or byways open to all traffic.

What is the minimum width of a footpath in the UK?

There is no fixed minimum width for a footpath in the UK. The width can vary, but footpaths should be wide enough to allow pedestrians to pass comfortably.

What are the disadvantages of footpaths?

The disadvantages of footpaths can include limitations on access for certain users like cyclists and horse riders, potential for erosion and damage to the environment, and occasional conflicts with landowners.

What are the two types of footpaths?

The two primary types of footpaths in the UK are public footpaths and permissive footpaths. Public footpaths have a legal right of way, while permissive footpaths are at the landowner’s discretion.

What’s the difference between a path and a footpath?

A path is a general term for a route or trail, while a footpath specifically refers to a path designed for pedestrians. Footpaths are typically for walking and not intended for other forms of transportation.

Final words

On the whole, a public footpath can be closed considering the rights of both the public and landowners. These paths play a vital role in connecting communities and providing outdoor enjoyment. While closures may happen, they’re subject to strict rules and procedures. If you disagree with a closure, you have options like raising objections, participating in inquiries, or seeking legal reviews. It’s reassuring to know that many people work to maintain a fair balance between access and landowner rights. Public footpaths are shared treasures that let us explore the countryside, connect with others, and celebrate our heritage. So, as you walk these paths, remember the rules that keep them open and the communities that protect them, ensuring we can all enjoy their benefits.