Planning and public rights of way

Public Rights of Way (PRoW) are public highways and are protected by law in exactly the same manner as any other public highway such as a High Street or dual carriageway. They are recorded in a legal document called the ‘Definitive Map and Statement of Public Rights of Way’ (DMS). In law, the DMS is conclusive evidence of the routes it shows. However, there may be higher rights (e.g. bridleway rights on a route shown as a footpath) or additional routes in existence which are not yet shown.

A path on the ground may not always be in the same position as the legal line of the path (as shown on the DMS), and may have a different width from that visible on the ground. It is therefore essential to check with us to find the true width and location of a PRoW.

Types of Public Rights of Way:

  • Footpaths (FP) – for people on foot only;
  • Bridleways (BR or BW) – for people on foot, riding or leading horses or bicycle;
  • Restricted Byways (RB) – as bridleways but also for horse drawn vehicles;
  • Byways Open to All Traffic (BOAT) – for any class of user, similar to a country lane or road.

A PRoW will be affected by development where:

  • Where it crosses or is adjacent to an application site;
  • Where it is to be used for site access (whether temporary or permanent);
  • Where it will be crossed by an access road (whether temporary or permanent);

The effect of a development on a PRoW is a material planning consideration.

Development and planning permission

Planning permission does not grant the right to close, alter or build over a PRoW in any way, even temporarily (i.e. change the surface, width, location etc.).

It is a criminal offence to obstruct a ProW unless the necessary legal order has been made, confirmed and brought into effect. Unauthorised obstructions may result in an injunction being served to stop development and/or criminal proceedings being brought against the offender. The court could impose a fine and rule that the obstruction be removed or a building demolished.

Express permission from WCC is required for any change to the surface of a PRoW. If a change to, or a closure of, a right of way is needed to enable development to be carried out, then there are two types of legal order which apply;

  1. Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (processed by WCC).

    Temporarily prohibits or restricts public access for a maximum period of 6 months, unless the Secretary of State approves an extension. At the end of the order, the path must be re-opened for public use on its legal line, free of obstructions.

    An application form for a temporary closure order and a list of charges is available on the Change to rights of way page.

  2. Diversion or Stopping Up Order under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (processed by the planning authority (for FP & BW) or Secretary or State (For RB & BOAT).

    Enables a PRoW to be diverted or stopped up permanently to enable development to occur; or temporarily for mineral extraction if the path is to be re-instated on its original line on completion.

Paths affected by development should comply with:

  • Policies set out in WCC’s  Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP);
  • Planning Policy Guidance (PPG)13: Transport – this promotes additional facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, and encourages the use of rights of way for local journeys;
  • PPG 17: Planning for open space, sport and recreation;
  • “32. Rights of way are an important recreational facility, which local authorities should protect and enhance. Local authorities should seek opportunities to provide better facilities for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders, for example by adding links to existing rights of way networks.”
  • Department of the Environment Circular 2/1993 : Public Rights of Way.

Please contact to request Rights of Way Review Committee Practice Guidance Note 6 Planning and public rights of way document.

If your development is likely to affect a PRoW, it is strongly recommended that you email at an early design stage for informal advice. This could help to avoid unnecessary objections and costly delays.

Planning and public rights of way was last updated on May 31, 2018.