About 2 years ago, walkers who took the path around St George’s School into the fields beyond, found their route obstructed by a new barbed-wire fence. No doubt they soon discovered that a stile had been provided at the far end. So this was not an attempt to keep the public out, but a short-lived plan by Hampshire County Council to rent out their field for grazing cattle. Two other stiles had been provided on the Stoneham Lane side of the field. But would they have been within their rights, as owners, to close off the field altogether or does the public have a right of way? Have they even denied us our right by blocking the gap we formerly used and making us walk all the way to the stile?

It was not long before some enterprising vandal cut gaps in the barbed wire. The City Council, who own the field to the south, responded by displaying, at every gap on all sides, notices which read:

Highways Act 1980 Sect 31(3)
Notice is hereby given that this way has not been dedicated as a highway, nor is there any intention so to dedicate it.
By order of Southampton Council. July 2003.

Here is a clue as to how a way may become a highway – dedication by the landowner. Dedication is not usually explicit and so must be inferred. The Highways Act provides a test: if the way “has actually been enjoyed by the public as of right and without interruption for a full period of 20 years, the way is to be deemed to have been dedicated as a highway unless there is sufficient evidence that there was no intention during that period to dedicate it.

As a unitary authority the Council is required to produce a definitive rights-of-way map. If you look for your route, you will be disappointed. Only 8 rights of way are shown for the whole of the City. 182 routes which are claimed to be public rights of way have to be investigated before they can be added to the map.
I would like to hear from residents who are interested in getting routes they walk confirmed as public rights of way.

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