Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Stile or Obstruction - Part 2

Ken Brockway, Footpath Inspector

This article is from Signpost 69, Autumn 2021

There has been much support for my rant about poor stiles in Signpost 68, Summer 2021. Writing that made me feel better but didn't achieve a great deal so here's some guidance on how to achieve improvements. A right of way may be dedicated subject to the right of the landowner to place stiles or gates across it. Any such limitation on the dedication should be recorded in the statement accompanying the definitive map. So in theory if it's not recorded in the statement there should be no limitation. A stile or gate erected other than upon dedication or by, or with the consent of, the highway authority is a nuisance at common law and an unlawful obstruction. An obstruction of the highway is one form of public nuisance. A public nuisance is some matter that materially affects the reasonable comfort and convenience of a class of Her Majesty's subjects who come within the sphere or neighbourhood of its operation. To commit a public nuisance is a crime at common law.

A highway authority may authorise the erection of a stile or gate and may impose conditions for maintenance, and for enabling the right to be exercised without undue inconvenience. The authorisation, together with any conditions, should be recorded in the statement accompanying the definitive map. Two points here, if it looks like a new fence line, was the stile authorised and is it recorded in the statement. If not, it should not be there. Section 146 of the Highways Act 1980 states: (1) Any stile, gate or other similar structure across a footpath or bridleway shall be maintained by the owner of the land in a safe condition, and to the standard of repair required to prevent unreasonable interference with the rights of the persons using the footpath or bridleway.

So what's safe? Is a stile safe until someone has an accident? DCC appear to take that view "unless it concerned a matter of life or limb, nothing would be done about it", "could I please ask that you report stiles in disrepair or stiles that are difficult to climb over rather than older stiles that may need replacing or repairing soon?" but also"I've spoken with the farm manager yesterday and advised them to keep an eye on their stile as it may need replacing soon.”

Difficult to climb: where do we seek guidance? British Standards BS 5709. Step-up should be no more than 300 mm from the ground, between steps and from step to top of cross rail. The top rail should not exceed 900mm from the ground and there should be a hand post. Through steps should be provided. Maintained by the owner, suggests a need to make inspections to determine the gate or stile is safe rather than waiting for a path user to fall and make a claim on their insurance. I did ask NFU Mutual if they advised their policy holders on this but had no reply. Perhaps it's subsection (4) of section 146 that explains a Highway Authority's reluctance to take action. The appropriate authority shall contribute not less than a quarter of any expenses shown to their satisfaction to have been reasonably incurred in compliance with subsection (1) above, and may make further contributions of such amount in each case as, having regard to all the circumstances, they consider reasonable.

So when reporting a difficult stile include the following: This stile fails to offer reasonable comfort and convenience, I consider it a public nuisance at common law. It is not being maintained by the owner of the land in a safe condition as required by section 146 of the Highways Act 1980 because it creates unreasonable interference with the rights of the persons using the footpath. It should be constructed to standards fit for modern usage no step up or over should exceed 300mm to avoid an accident which could lead to a claim for damages on the owner or occupier of the land.

Photograph shows Crich FP72 at Fritchley, a fence contractor's stile which looks good. See also photograph of another stile on rear cover.

Next: Hope Valley

Page title:Stile or Obstruction - Part 2
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