“Property buyers should be aware of issues surrounding public access to land they are buying, and be fully conversant with the implications,” says Craig Fuller of Stacks Property Search.
“If you are buying a property that has extensive land included in the sale, it should be a priority at an early stage to find out if any part of it is open to the public. The most common situation is where footpaths or bridleways cross the land, but there are also occasions where you will find that members of the public have a lawful right of access over other land too (open access land). This is generally either ‘open country’ (mountain, moor, heath or down) or registered ‘common land’. There are plans afoot to create a ‘coastal margin’ that may affect landowners near the coast. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act) explains in detail, and has helpful online maps.
“Having established that some of a property’s land is open access land, you should establish two things – are you prepared to live with it, and you must of course factor in any implication it has on price, both to you on purchase, and in terms of resale.
“In our opinion, the best way of dealing with open access land is to embrace it and manage it, rather than try and hide it. Make it clear to visitors what’s expected of them, what they can and can’t do, but be welcoming and friendly. Make pathways to encourage walkers in a direction that suits you, and provide bins so you don’t have to deal with litter.
“Be clear about your responsibilities and liabilities, and check you have the correct insurance cover.
“Footpaths are easier to deal with, but are much more widespread in England. Whatever you do, don’t start closing off footpaths without permission – you’ll annoy the neighbours, the ramblers, and the authorities, and this won’t help at all!
“In the last decade there’s been a significant change in the attitude towards redirecting footpaths, but you have got to have a good reason, for instance, if the footpath goes through a working area where walkers could disrupt the activity, or the activity itself could be dangerous to the walker.
“Privacy is another reason. If you’ve got a footpath that passes within a few paces of your front door, then the authorities understand you might want to redirect. But while redirecting is a real possibility, shutting a footpath is pretty much a no-no, so you need to come up with a good alternative. That usually means having the land, or an agreement with your neighbouring landowner, to offer an alternative route.
“If you can offer an alternative route that goes over your own land, given a certain amount of time, patience, and some finance, you should be in the clear. Asking a neighbour to take on the responsibility is another matter, and money will almost certainly have to change hands. It’s largely accepted that land or property is devalued if it has a footpath running over it, and there are fairly onerous associated responsibilities – keeping the footpath open, ensuring stiles and gates meet standards, keeping hedges cut, and keeping up public liability insurance.
“Moving an intrusive footpath will potentially add value to your property. Some buyers won’t countenance a footpath anywhere on land, and one in the garden or close to the property itself is verging on blight. So the effort and costs involved in redirecting a footpath can be seen as a good investment.
“As a buyer, you should walk and inspect every inch of footpath or open access land so you know exactly what you’re taking on. Level of usage is obviously important, so check in the summer for how stamped down vegetation has become; or in winter for extent of churned up mud and footprints.
“Finally, where you feel that your property is overlooked from a footpath, consider screening to limit visibility, or a very slight diversion of route.”
Stacks Property Search & Acquisition, www.stacks.co.uk
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