Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Replacing Stiles with Kissing Gates... still a good idea!

This article is from Signpost 49, July 2015

The article by Terry Norris in the last issue about replacing stiles with kissing gates certainly created a lot of interest. I received more correspondence on this than on any previous item; it was discussed robustly at the AGM; and the Management Committee has devoted a lot of time to it. The views of correspondents range from: leaving well enough alone since climbing stiles is an essential part of the joy of walking; to replacing stiles with cattle grids since even gates are a nuisance. But the general consensus is that there are places where it would be quite inappropriate to replace a stile and other places where a single gate could enable access to many miles of footpaths, and that each case should be dealt with on its own merit.

Two other very important factors must be considered. Firstly, the Equalities Act of 2010 requires that Highway Authorities make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disadvantaged people can enjoy using public rights of way. To this end the Society will always insist that any structures on new or diverted paths will be as unrestrictive as possible. Secondly, those structures are legally the responsibility of the owner of the land on which they stand and by replacing them at its own expense the Society would be subsidising the landowner. This does not preclude an individual member paying for a new gate or leaving a legacy for that specific purpose, as in the Cotswold Society’s ‘adopt a gate’ scheme.

Courts and Inquiries Officer Rhoda Barnett has drafted a policy, which is presented here along with the general background and some of the issues still to be resolved. This policy will be discussed at the forthcoming Half Year Meeting, and in the meantime you can communicate your thoughts to Rhoda by email – rhodabarnett@tiscali.co.uk – or by writing to her at Taylor House

The background

Highway, Planning and Access Authorities have obligations under the Equality Act 2010; these relate to anyone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Such impairments include mobility difficulty, poor sight, learning difficulties, manual dexterity etc, and such activities include walking. Specifically, the Act requires Highway, Planning and Access Authorities, in carrying out their functions, to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that it is not impossible or unreasonably difficult for people with disabilities to benefit from those functions as others would do, or they must show that there are good reasons for not so doing. They must also advance equality of opportunity even if it means treating some people more favourably than others.

One of the functions of Highway Authorities is to assert and protect the right of the public to use and enjoy highways. The Equality Act 2010 applies to this function.

Structures may be legally installed on rights of way to control the movement of stock; to safeguard people using the way; at locations where the public accepted the presence of a structure on the way when the way was dedicated to the public (i.e. a historic limitation to the public’s right to use the way); or if a creation agreement or order specifies the installation of a structure. Structures may also be installed to enforce a Public Spaces Protection Order or a Traffic Regulation Order. Such structures include stiles, gates, bollards, rails, chicanes and cattle-grids.

For the less mobile, the difficulties caused by gates and stiles can be a significant deterrent to using public rights of way, so that such people are unable to gain the benefits of enjoyment and improved health and well-being which are available to more mobile people. This also applies to other users such as carers with young children in push chairs.

Defra guidance to Authorities is that if a structure is essential, it should be the least restrictive to users of the way that is consistent with the landowner’s requirements. When the installation of a structure is included in an agreement or order, or is authorised by the Authority, its standard and design should be specified. This can be a British Standard including the version of this standard e.g. BS 5709:2006, or a locally adopted standard, e.g. one which complies with the Equality Act 2010 provisions and has been agreed by users and landowners and included in a Rights of Way Improvement Plan or other official document. The installation of structures to enable access for walkers to designated open access land is less prescribed, but the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 apply to all the functions of all local authorities.

Proposed Society policy

1.The Society will oppose any action of an Authority which does not comply with its Equality Act 2010 obligations and Defra advice. Specifically:
  • objections will be made to creation and diversion orders which specify the installation of a structure on the new route which is not the least restrictive option; stiles are only acceptable if the order-making authority documents a compelling reason for their use; gates are only acceptable if they are necessary for stock control or for the safety of users, otherwise there should be gaps
  • objections will be made to creation and diversion orders which do not specify the standard of a structure.
2.The replacement of existing stiles with gates to BS 5709:2006 or a locally adopted standard will be supported and encouraged, except where this is unreasonable. Circumstances where it might be unreasonable include when:
  • a stile is of great historical or aesthetic significance
  • none of the remainder of the path is accessible to walkers with impairments on account of its gradient, surface or width, and this could not reasonably be improved
  • the genuine operational needs of landowners preclude installation of a gate.

The fact that there may be other stiles on the path is not on its own sufficient reason for one stile not to be replaced by a gate.

3.The Society may contribute to the expense of replacing a stile on a public right of way with a gate if this is considered to be furthering its constitutional object ‘erecting commemorative structures’. The Highway Authority will be required to enter into an agreement with the landowner made under s147ZA Highways Act 1980, to specify such matters as the standard, design, location and maintenance of the gate.
4.Authorities may be asked to demonstrate that they have considered their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 in judgements which they have made.
5.Highway Authorities will be asked if they have followed Defra guidance to publish a policy for meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to public rights of way, in particular as to how they will deal with structures. If they have not, they will be asked for their reasons for not doing so and encouraged to adopt such a policy; further action will be taken as appropriate.
6.Highway Authorities will be encouraged to comply with s320 Highways Act 1980 and to follow Defra guidance to specify clearly and to document any authorisation which they give for the installation of a structure on a public right of way. This authorisation should include provisions for the modification of the structure if and when the need for it has changed, including removal if the need for the structure has ceased. If necessary, a copy of this authorisation will be requested.
7.If members of the Society become aware of a structure allowing access on to or within open access land which does not meet BS 5709:2006, or an adopted local standard, the relevant Access Authority may be asked to justify its approval of the installation of the structure.

Issues

Is it sensible to provide a gate if the remainder of the path is inaccessible to walkers with impairments on account of its gradient, surface etc, where this could not be reasonably improved?

Would replacing one stile on a path with a gate and leaving other stiles really improve the access for the disabled? Perhaps we should follow the LDNP’s ‘Miles without Stiles’ initiative where they improve every structure on a route to make it accessible to all.

Would members accept us gifting structures paid for with members’ money to landowners? This might be seen as analogous to the Society paying for a bridge, but bridges belong to the Highway Authority and are specifically mentioned in the constitution. To pay for other structures would need an amendment to the constitution by adding ‘gates and stiles’ to section 4 (1) (d).

If we retained ownership of the gates rather than gifting them to the landowner we would have to consider the problems of maintenance and legal liability.

Dave Brown

Next: Signpost Report June 2015

Page title:Replacing Stiles with Kissing Gates... still a good idea!
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