As highway authority, the council has a statutory duty to assert and protect the rights of the public to use and enjoy Staffordshire’s 4,500km of public rights of way. It also has to prevent as far as possible, the unauthorised stopping up or obstruction of public rights of way.
Legislation imposes certain responsibilities on land managers (e.g. farmers, agricultural contractors, tenants, occupiers, householders, businesses and developers) regarding the safety and availability of rights of way running across their land. The legislation makes various types of actions to obstruct a right of way or deter the public from using it, a criminal offence.
The council receives approximately 2,000 path complaints a year and the majority of these cross privately owned land. Whilst most land managers fulfil their statutory responsibilities, a minority persistently fail to comply despite being given time, guidance and advice from the council to help them rectify the issue.
When dealing with offences, the council will use its enforcement powers to ensure that rights of way remain open, safe and easy for the public to use and enjoy. Enforcement covers a range of options, including negotiation and advice, direct action by the council to rectify the issue itself, and in some more extreme cases, prosecution of land managers.
The council’s rights of way enforcement protocol describes a fair and transparent process for dealing with issues of non-compliance of rights of way legislation. It also describes a proportional approach to enforcement, whereby the council’s limited resources are focussed on those issues that deliver the greatest value to Staffordshire.