17 February 1998
Court ruling threatens common land access

COMMON land could be withdrawn from public use after a High Court judge upheld a landowners right to fence off eight footpaths.

Mr Justice Sullivan said that tracks through Ranmore Common, near Dorking, Surrey, could not be classified as bridlepaths because they were not used by the public “as a right” but utilised with the landowners permission.

Campaigners fear other landowners may also be encouraged to withdraw access.

In another case, the same judge said off-road drivers could use tracks and lanes classified as “Roads Used as Public Paths” only if they could show they had been used by vehicles since before 1930.

He dismissed a request by the Land Access and Recreation Association to overturn a decision by the secretary of state for the environment last May to define a lane in a Somerset village as a bridleway reserved for walkers and horse riders.

It is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 miles of country lanes and paths many used in the past for taking cattle to market, are classified in this way.

Meanwhile the long-awaited Government “Right to Roam” White Paper is expected to open 1.3 million hectares (3.2m acres) of the countryside to the general public. Landowners are up in arms.

  • The Daily Telegraph 17/02/98 page 4
  • The Times 17/02/98 page 1
  • The Guardian 17/02/98 page 4, The Guardian education supplement, page 10, page 11