More than ever, landowners are opening their land to the public for additional income through ventures such as wine tours, visitor centres, campsites, and festivals. With the summer nearly with us we take a look at the important implications in allowing such increased access due to a little-known law.

What Responsibilities Do Landowners Have for Private Roads?

Landowners have minimal responsibilities for private roads, ie those roads that run across privately owned land and have no obligations to maintain them or keep them hazard-free beyond general negligence laws. However, regular public access can invoke elements of the Highways Act 1980, e.g. necessitating signage, road maintenance, and restricting usage to licensed drivers.

How is ‘Regular’ Public Access Defined?

The definition of ‘regular’ public access is ambiguous, often determined on a case-by-case basis. Landowners must assume that frequently used private roads risk being classified as semi-public highways.

What Precautionary Steps Can Minimise Risk?

To minimise risk, landowners should identify roads that could be deemed semi-public and place no entry notices on private roads branching off them. This turns unauthorised public use into trespass, therefore reducing liability.

Can Public Access Be Limited by Time?

Yes, public access can be limited to specific times, such as during a café’s opening hours. Signage at road entrances should indicate these times. For pre-booked attendance, ticket and contract terms can impose limitations to minimise liability.

What are the Risks of Roads Becoming Byways Open to All Traffic (BOAT)?

While the risk of council compulsory adoption of semi-public roads has decreased, prolonged usage may lead to roads being classified as BOATs, creating public paths/rights of way. This imposes severe restrictions on landowners, such as ensuring free-roaming animals do not endanger ‘road’ users.

How Can Landowners Show Compliance and Protect Against Negligence?

Landowners should conduct a risk assessment to classify all their roads and for those accessed by the public, identify potential issues and hazards. This includes keep paths clear by cutting back shrubbery, fixing potholes, and installing necessary signage. They should take reasonable steps to mitigate identified risks, which may involve limiting road use by dangerous farm machinery.

What Are the Financial Implications of Compliance?

Compliance with the Highways Act can be costly. Landowners should factor these expenses into the costs of any new ventures aimed at attracting the public.

Does Public Access Affect Insurance?

Landowners should inform their insurance providers if they believe their roads may be deemed semi-public. Insurance based on a private road status may become invalid if the road is reclassified after an accident.

How Can Landowners Navigate Legal Risks?

With more estates opening to the public, and farms diversifying their revenue streams, landowners could face new legal challenges. Awareness and proactive management of these issues are crucial, as ignorance of the law is rarely a successful defence.

Written By

Published: 18th June 2024
Area: Agriculture

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Amy specialises in agricultural property law, bringing more than 16 years’ experience.

She advises on a variety of matters such as buying and selling farms and estates, agricultural tenancies, easements, bank security work, and advising landowners on diversification projects such as commercial leases and selling land for development.

Amy is also a leading figure in agricultural organisations across the East Midlands including Women in Agriculture and FCN Nottingham.

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