Section 31(6): What's in it for you?

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There are many processes that can be followed in the legal system but as a landowner one that you should care about is that laid down under Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980.

What?

Section 31 of the Highways Act 1980 ('Section 31') addresses the process of presumed dedication of highways by statute. Highways are public rights of way. There are a number of different types of classifications of highway and each allows different types of traffic along them, such as on foot or on horseback.

When?

Under statute, Section 31 allows dedication of a way to be presumed after public use for 20 years. This must be public use generally and not exclusive use by a set category of the public such as local village inhabitants. Where? The use by members of the public of a way that crosses your land is what you need to keep an eye out for.

Why?

If members of the public can show use of the way over your land for a 20 year period 'as of right' and without interruption then that way can be presumed to be dedicated as a highway under Section 31. 'As of right' means that members of the public used the way without force, secrecy or permission.

If, however, you can show that you did not intend to dedicate the way as a highway during that 20 year period you can stop those public rights being established.

How?

A notice on your land is the most obvious option and Section 31(3) confirms that where a landowner:

  • Erects a notice;
  • Clearly states that they have no intention to dedicate the way as a highway; and
  • Places the notice somewhere that will be visible to users of the way.

This will be sufficient to negate the intention to dedicate the way as a highway.

How often do such notices stay where they were put and without unhelpful graffiti additions?

Unfortunately all too often the answer is not very long at all and that is why Section 31(6) is a procedure that has a lot to offer landowners who want to protect their land against public rights of way being established under statute where this is not intended.

Section 31(6) allows you to deposit a statement with your relevant local council authority to confirm what ways (if any) you admit have been dedicated as highways over your land. Within every 10 years thereafter a confirmatory statutory declaration will continue the protection against presumed statutory dedication of new public rights of way.

This is a quick and neat tool in the armoury for protecting the value of your land and is often underutilised.

Continuing areas of concern are:

  • Dedication by common law;
  • The fact that Section 31(6) statements do not void rights that have been presumed dedicated by the 20 years use period already; and
  • Private rights of way that may be claimed by particular individuals.

Nonetheless, using section 31(6) is a sensible tool for protecting against future rights of way and Blake Morgan's team of agricultural property specialists would be pleased to assist you in getting this good land management practice in place.