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Permissive Paths

Permissive paths, sometimes referred to as concessionary paths, are not public rights of way and the public do not have a legal right to use them. However they can play an important role in improving public access to the countryside by providing a connection between existing public rights of way where gaps currently exist in the network. As permissive paths are not public rights of way, landowners may impose conditions on their use, which can include restrictions on when the public can use them as well as restrictions on how the paths are used (e.g. walkers may be allowed, but not cyclists or horse-riders).

Creating a permissive route

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There are two main ways of establishing a permissive path; either through a formal written agreement between the Council and the owner of the land, or by the owner of land granting consent in a less formal arrangement. Usually, if a formal agreement has been made between the landowner and local authority, then the authority will be willing to address any problems encountered by users with the owner of the land. The agreement can include provisions as to any payment to the owner of the land by the Council in return for granting the way as a permissive path as well as provisions relating to future maintenance of the path. The Council will normally only enter into such a formal agreement where it is considered that there is a clear and obvious gap in the current network, the way is not a public right of way and where there is a convincing business case for the Council to enter into a permissive agreement. Without these three elements in place, it is unlikely that the Council will enter into a formal agreement. 

Landowners may choose alternatively to create a permissive path and publicise its availability in a less formal manner. For example they may publicise the availability of the path through signs on the ground, via the internet or by placing an advert in a local paper or newsletter.  In such circumstances, the surface of the permissive path will always be maintainable by the landowner and they will be liable for injury to users as a consequence of any defect in the surface of the path. Landowners who are contemplating creating permissive paths in this manner should satisfy themselves that they have the requisite third party and public liability insurance. The Council would not normally have any involvement in such an arrangement. Nevertheless, a significant advantage to a landowner of an arrangement of this type is that they can close the path to the public at any time without notice, should they wish to do so.

It is recognised that, in some circumstances, landowners are willing to create permissive paths to enhance public access over their land and that these landowners may naturally be concerned that in doing this, public rights of way may accrue through long use of the path. In order to protect themselves against this risk, it is recommended that landowners take at least one of a number of preventative measures.

There are three methods by which a landowner can prevent, or diminish, a claim of public rights over their land. It is recommended that landowners consider a combination of all three:

  1. By erecting permanent signs identifying that the route in question is used ‘by permission’ and not ‘as of right’. The suggested wording for such a sign might be that “the path is not a public right of way and the landowner does not intend to dedicate the path as a public right of way, but users are permitted to use it with the express permission of the landowner”, but this wording can be adapted to suit the situation. Other conditions might also be added. For example, use might be limited to daylight hours only and signs can inform the public that the landowner reserves the right to withdraw permission to use the path at any time, either temporarily or permanently and at short notice. 
  2. By closing the path for a short period, for example one day per year, thereby preventing uninterrupted use ‘as of right’ from accruing.       Traditionally the closure of paths has been undertaken over a public holiday to make it memorable to the greatest potential number of      users that the path was closed on that day. It must be obvious to users that the path is closed, so the closure should be supported by signage informing users of the closure or other acts which make it evident that the owner is preventing use for that period. It is useful for the landowner to make a documentary record of such actions (e.g., dated photographs) as evidence of the act of closing the path, in case it is necessary for them to provide evidence of the act of closing the path at a future date.
  3. By depositing a statement and map under Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980 and at any time during a 20 year period thereafter lodging a declaration with Cornwall Council acknowledging existing public rights of way over their land and indicating a lack of intention on their part to dedicate any other public rights of way over the land. Further information on this type of deposit, including instructions on how to produce the map and templates for the Statement and      Declaration can be found at the following website:

A permissive path made available by a landowner does not necessarily remain in perpetuity and permission to use the path can be withdrawn at any time.

Erecting signs informing users that there is no ‘public right of way’ and that a way is used by permission only, may bring rights into question on a way that has been used ‘as of right’ for a period of 20 years. Furthermore, it may prompt an application that the way is added to the Definitive Map and Statement of public rights of way by a confirmed Definitive Map Modification Order made under section 53(2) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The Council has a legal duty to determine such applications. Landowners who are aware of and have acquiesced in use of a way over their land should be aware that the act of creating a permissive path could have unintended consequences.

Similarly, landowners should be aware that offering a permissive path as an alternative to an unrecorded way that is currently being used as of right may also result in the unintended consequence that an application to have the used way added to the Definitive Map and Statement is made to the Council.

A landowner who proposes to allow people access to their land by permission might wish to take legal advice in relation the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and the duty of care that landowners are required to extend to visitors on their property.

On occasions, a landowner may choose to offer a permissive path as an alternative to an existing public right of way. This is not an action that is supported by Cornwall Council though it is recognised that in offering an alternative permissive path, landowners are not breaking the law. However, landowners should make a clear distinction between the permissive path and the public right of way and must ensure that the public right of way is open and available, so that users can make an informed choice about which path they use.

For further information on permissive paths, standard wording for notices and recommendations about how to install signs please see the Institute of Public Rights of Way Good Practice Guide.

For further advice on permissive paths, interested parties should contact the Countryside Access Team at countrysideaccess@cornwall.gov.uk.