The CLA is calling for a change in legislation to make the process of diverting rights of way easier for landowners.

Currently, the criteria landowners have to fulfil to divert a right of way means opponents have ample scope to object.

If a farmer wishes to divert a dangerous path passing through his farm, where livestock is herded or heavy machinery is in use, it can take years for cases to be resolved if objections are raised.

The process of overturning decisions is prohibitive and it can cost landowners possibly tens of thousands of pounds to launch a High Court case or judicial review.

Recent cases, including a Nottinghamshire farmer being prosecuted for manslaughter after a rambler was killed by a bull on his farm, have highlighted the dangers relating to public footpaths bisecting fields where stock graze.

A livestock owner could face prosecution under a number of legal categories including the Animals Act 1971 if it can be shown that animals that are not normally considered dangerous, such as cows, are a danger to the public “at a particular time or in a particular circumstance”.

Andrew Gillett, a CLA legal adviser who deals with public rights of way issues, said: “There are hundreds of applications being turned down because councils are under no duty to take on applications for diversion orders.

“If objections are raised, the issue gets referred to the Planning Inspectorate, which will not confirm an order unless it is satisfied that the proposed route will not be substantially less convenient to the public. The route must also start and finish on the same highway.”

The CLA is urging the government to change the legislation to make it quicker, easier and less expensive for farmers to divert highways away from gardens and farmyards where there is a danger, or other health and safety issue.

“We would like to see a presumption in favour of a diversion away from gardens, farmyards and other sensitive areas, where privacy, safety or security is an issue. If it improves public safety, everyone stands to benefit.”

A DEFRA spokesman said: “We know this is a concern for landowners and we are working with interested groups including the NFU and the Ramblers Association to find a solution that makes it easier for landowners, under certain circumstances, to divert rights of way.”

The CLA’s call for action is highlighted by the plight of one dairy farmer’s 10-year battle to divert a “dangerous” public footpath through his busy farmyard was turned down – after a single objection from the Open Spaces Society (OSS).

Herefordshire District Council submitted an order to the Planning Inspectorate to relocate a public footpath that runs through Covenhope Farm in Aymestrey after farmer John Probert raised health and safety and biosecurity concerns.

Mr Probert said walkers who frequently pass through his yard were at risk of serious injury or worse as dairy cattle are herded twice daily, a bull and a sheep regularly, and heavy machinery is in frequent use.

The Ramblers Association backed the plans, saying the “new footpath is not substantially less convenient and represents a reasonable alternative to the existing path”.

However, the Planning Inspectorate refused to grant the order after it agreed with the OSS’ assertion that the new route was “less convenient”.

The Proberts intend to challenge this ruling via a High Court judicial review with the support of the NFU.

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