Whose path is it anyway?!

Earlier this month the High Court found that a park path had become a highway under presumed dedication and was therefore a public highway maintainable at public expense.

Whilst the case was a personal injury one (brought by Ms Barlow who claimed compensation after she fell on the path) the decision will be of wider interest to local authorities and the those in the world of property as it provides clarity on when a highway might be assumed to be responsibility of the local authority, even where that authority disclaims responsibility.

In the case of Barlow v. Wigan Council [2019] EWHC 1546 (QB)  the park path had originally been constructed in the 1930s by Abram Urban District Council. It was agreed that the path had become a highway by presumed dedication (under section 31(1) of the Highways Act 1980). It was also agreed that the path was poorly maintained and in need of repair.

The issue was whether the path had become a highway maintainable at public expense and whether Wigan Council was therefore liable to maintain it. In order to become a highway maintainable at public expense section 36(2)(a) of the Highways Act must be satisfied – ie the path must have been constructed as a highway by a highway authority.

The case turned on whether this meant that Abram UDC must have intended the path to be a highway at the time that it was constructed.

On appeal the High Court held that Abram UDC did not require an intention to create or dedicate the path as a highway at the time of construction. It was sufficient that the path had been constructed, by a highway authority, and had become a highway by the time Ms Barlow fell. Wigan Council was therefore liable.

Whilst this seems an eminently sensible decision it will no doubt cause concern to local authorities who may now find themselves with greater maintenance responsibilities than they anticipated. It may also mean the the public have a stronger case to force local authorities to take responsibility for roads and paths that are in disrepair.

According to a recent study by Help the Aged, more than 2,300 older people trip and fall every day on broken pavements in the UK.

One of the main jobs of local councils is to keep public spaces in good repair, safe and fit for purpose.

So if you suffer an injury from their failure to do this, then you can make a compensation claim.