Deposits under the Highways Act 1980
The Highways Act 1980, under Section 31(6) provides protection for landowners against the establishment of Public Rights of Way and Village Greens, via The Commons Act 2006.
The provisions require the landowner to deposit a map and statement with the Council, followed by a declaration showing the rights of way they acknowledge over their land. The landowner then submits further declarations every 20 years to the same effect. However public rights of way can still come into existence if it can be shown that there has been at least 20 years uninterrupted use by the public, without force, secrecy or permission. This is known as deemed dedication. A village green can also come into existence if local people have used an area for sports and leisure pursuits, without force, secrecy or permission for a period of at least 20 years.
Deposits are recommended to protect the landowner's interest and provide a better understanding for users as to which paths are public rights of way and which are informal paths the landowner allows use of.
The benefits to the landowner include:
- submitting a deposit gives a fixed point in time, after which no unacknowledged rights can be claimed;
- possible continued use of informal paths by the public without the worry for the landowner of a public right of way being established;
- any new paths that come into existence will be protected from becoming a public right of way.
As well as depositing a Section 31(6), the landowner can prevent deemed dedication of a path/track or open space by undertaking clear actions showing they are not dedicating the land to public use. The landowner can achieve this by erecting notices, locking gates at least once a year or challenging users and recording the challenge.
The process of depositing a map and statement does not affect any public rights of way already existing or any deemed dedications that can be shown prior to the submission of the map and statement. The process does also not affect any application by the public, for a public right of way based on historical documentary evidence.