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Annual stopping up is not always sufficient to prevent a right of way being acquired

It is often thought that locking a gate once a year is enough to stop a right of way being created over land. A recent case, Ali v Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and others [2015] EWHC 893, has highlighted that more may need to be done.
Every local authority is under an obligation to monitor different types of highways (their location and the type) and can update the definitive map and statements either on its own initiative or on application by someone. If the public has used a right of way seemingly without restriction for 20 years, the right of way is deemed to have been dedicated as a highway. This is subject to a proviso that the landowner can stop this dedication if there is sufficient evidence that there was no intention during that period to create an unimpeded right of way.  A previous court case had decided that in order for a landowner to communicate the lack of intention a landowner had to communicate that to the public in an overt way.
This case involved an accessway used by residents to get to local shops. Once per year, at Christmas, the landowner locked a gate through the alleyway, barring the route to the shops. The High Court decided that locking a gate which accessed shops at Christmas was ineffective to notify the public that the landowner did not want the accessway used as an uninterrupted right of way. This was because at Christmas the shops would be closed and no resident would be attempting to access them. Therefore the locking of the gate would not have been noticed by a member of the public.
Whilst the annual locking of a gate may be sufficient in some circumstances, landowners will need to consider the specific circumstances of each potential right of way to ensure that the public are made aware of the landowner’s actions and intentions.