Public rights of way and planning

Find information about the importance of public rights of way within the planning system.

It is important that public rights of way are considered within the planning system, whether you are a homeowner looking to add an extension to your house, or a company planning to build a large housing development.

They are used for sustainable transport links, recreation, encouraging healthy lifestyles, supporting the local economy and promoting local tourism. They provide opportunities for residents to access the local countryside, and local towns for shopping, education, employment etc, without adding to the already heavily congested road network.

Where any kind of development which might affect a public right of way is concerned, early contact with the relevant public rights of way officer avoids problems later on when they may be more time consuming and expensive for you to address.

You can find out whether your plans may affect a public right of way by checking the definitive map.

If a public right of way might be affected by your development, please contact the appropriate Area Rights of Way Office to discuss your plans. You can find information about who to contact on our public rights of way contacts page.

The planning system helps us to protect and enhance our network of public rights of way in Suffolk, and our Green Access Strategy (2020 to 2030) sets out our commitment to ensuring and promoting sustainable travel options for all.

The Green Access Strategy focuses on walking and cycling for commuting, accessing services and facilities such as local shops, GP surgeries, post offices etc, and for leisure reasons.

Specifically, the Green Access Strategy (2.1) “seeks opportunities to enhance public rights of way, including new linkages and upgrading routes where there is a need, to improve access for all and support healthy and sustainable access between communities and services. Funding to be sought through development and transport funding, external grants, other councils and partnership working.”

Government guidance considers that the effect of development on a public right of way is a material consideration in the determination of applications for planning permission. Local planning authorities should ensure that the potential consequences are taken into account whenever such applications are considered (Rights of Way Circular 1/09 – Defra October 2009, para 7.2) and that public rights of way should be protected.

Public rights of way can support all 3 key objectives of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (updated February 2019).

  • building a strong economy
  • building healthy communities
  • enhancing the natural and built environment.

Specifically, public rights of way support NPPF Section 8 Promoting Healthy and Safe Communities, and NPPF Section 9 Promoting Sustainable Transport. In relation to public rights of way in Suffolk, we see the key NPPF sections as being the following:

  • Paragraph 83(c): Planning policies and decisions should enable sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments which respect the character of the countryside.
  • Paragraph 83(d): Planning policies and decisions should enable the retention and development of accessible local services and community facilities, including open space.
  • Paragraph 84: Planning policies and decisions should ensure that development is sensitive to its surroundings, does not have an unacceptable impact on local roads and exploits any opportunities to make a location more sustainable, for example by improving the scope for access on foot, by cycling or by public transport
  • Paragraph 91(a): Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places which promote social interaction, including opportunities for meetings between people who might not otherwise come into contact with each other, for example with street layouts that allow for easy pedestrian and cycle connections within and between neighbourhoods
  • Paragraph 91(b): Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places which are safe and accessible, so that crime and disorder, and the fear of crime, do not undermine the quality of life or community cohesion, for example through the use of clear and legible pedestrian routes and high quality public space
  • Paragraph 91(c): Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places which enable and support healthy lifestyles, for example through the provision of safe and accessible green infrastructure and layouts that encourage walking and cycling
  • Paragraph 98: Planning policies and decisions should protect and enhance public rights of way and access, including taking opportunities to provide better facilities for users, for example by adding links to existing rights of way networks including National Trails
  • Paragraph 102: Transport issues should be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and development proposals, so that opportunities to promote walking, cycling and public transport use are identified and pursued and patterns of movement, streets, parking and other transport considerations are integral to the design of schemes, and contribute to making high quality places
  • Paragraph 104: Planning policies should provide for high quality walking and cycling networks and supporting facilities such as cycle parking (drawing on Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans)
  • Paragraph 108: In assessing sites that may be allocated for development in plans, or specific applications for development, it should be ensured that: a) appropriate opportunities to promote sustainable transport modes can be – or have been – taken up, given the type of development and its location; b) safe and suitable access to the site can be achieved for all users; and c) any significant impacts from the development on the transport network (in terms of capacity and congestion), or on highway safety, can be cost effectively mitigated to an acceptable degree.
  • Paragraph 110: Applications for development should: a) give priority first to pedestrian and cycle movements, both within the scheme and with neighbouring areas; and c) create places that are safe, secure and attractive – which minimise the scope for conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.
  • Paragraph 170(c): Planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by maintaining the character of the undeveloped coast, while improving public access to it where appropriate.
  • Paragraph 171: Plans should take a strategic approach to maintaining and enhancing networks of habitats and green infrastructure.

This section contains points which must be noted if you are doing anything that might affect a public right of way, or will take place near to a public right of way.

The applicant, and any future owners, residents etc, must have private rights to take motorised vehicles over a public right of way other than a Byway Open to All Traffic. To do so without lawful authority is an offence under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1988. Any damage to a public right of way resulting from use other than that commensurate with its classification, or from works, must be made good by the applicant. We are not responsible for the maintenance and repair of public rights of way beyond the wear and tear of normal use for its classification and will seek to recover the costs of any such damage it is required to remedy. We do not keep records of private rights and suggest that a solicitor is contacted.

Under Section 167 of the Highways Act 1980 any structural retaining wall within 3.66 metres of a PROW with a retained height in excess of 1.37 metres, must not be constructed without the prior written approval of drawings and specifications by Suffolk County Council. The process to be followed to gain approval will depend on the nature and complexity of the proposals. Construction of any retaining wall or structure that supports a PROW or is likely to affect the stability of the PROW may also need prior approval at the discretion of Suffolk County Council. Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss preliminary proposals at an early stage.

Any hedges adjacent to PROW must be planted a minimum of 1 metre from the edge of the path in order to allow for annual growth and cutting, and should not be allowed to obstruct the PROW. Some hedge types may need more space, and this should be taken into account by the applicant. In addition, any fencing should be positioned a minimum of 0.5 metres from the edge of the path in order to allow for cutting and maintenance of the path, and should not be allowed to obstruct the PROW.

The granting of planning permission is separate to any consents that may be required in relation to public rights of way. It does not give authorisation for structures such as gates to be erected on a public right of way, or the temporary or permanent closure or diversion of a public right of way. Nothing may be done to close, alter the alignment, width, surface or condition of a public right of way, or to create a structure such as a gate upon a public right of way, without the due legal process being followed, and permission being granted from the Rights of Way and Access team as appropriate. Permission may or may not be granted depending on all the circumstances.

To apply for permission, please see the information below:

  • To apply for permission to carry out work on a public right of way, or seek a temporary closure, please note that any damage to a public right of way resulting from works must be made good by the applicant. We are not responsible for the maintenance and repair of public rights of way beyond the wear and tear of normal use for its classification and will seek to recover the costs of any such damage it is required to remedy.
  • To apply for permission for structures to be constructed on a public right of way (for example, gates or bollards).
  • To apply for permission for a public right of way to be stopped up or diverted within a development site, the officer at the appropriate borough or district council should be contacted at as early an opportunity as possible to discuss the making of an order under section 257 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The contact details can be found on our public rights of way contacts page. Please note that nothing may be done to stop up or divert the legal alignment of a public right of way until the due legal process has been completed and the order has come into force.