A public path, or public right of way is a route over which the public have a right to pass and re-pass.

Advice, detail and registers

What are public rights of way?

Public rights of way are paths along which the public have a right to travel. Some are only available to walking; some allow for other modes of travel (see below). They are available for use 24/7 unless formally closed. They are part of a wider family of 'public highways' such as roads and pavements. They differ to 'private rights of way', which are attached to properties or individuals. Use of public rights of way comes with responsibilities.

Each Right of Way has a written statement describing its route and is shown on a map, known as the Definitive Map. If a path is shown on the Definitive Map it is legal proof of the public's right to use it. However, if a path is not shown on the Definitive Map this is not conclusive proof that no public rights exist over it.

Who can use public rights of way?

A legal right to use does not mean that all paths are accessible to all with a right to.

The character and location, sloped ground or remote location, may limit accessibility for some.

Sunderland City Council is working to improve accessibility across the city.

Rights on:Foot*HorseBicycleHorse and cartMechanically propelled vehicle (e.g. motorbike, scooter or car)
Public footpathYesNoNoNoNo (criminal offence)
Public bridalwayYesYesYesNoNo (criminal offence)
Restricted bywayYesYesYesYesNo (criminal offence)
Byway open to all traffic (non in Sunderland)YesYesYesYesYes

* A right on foot includes a right with push chair or wheel chair unless with lawful private right or easement, permission or statutory prerogative

Rights and responsibilities - path users

When using public rights of way you should adhere to the countryside code

Public path users have responsibility not to cause disturbance or damage to private property including fences, crops and livestock, or to land management operations.

When using shared use routes on a pedal cycle, extra care should be applied, and cyclists should slow when approaching pedestrians or horse riders.

Route users (or parent/guardian/carers) must decide if a route is suitable for them.

Extra care is needed in some areas including riverside, cliff top and remote locations.

Where paths go through farms and farm land, additional care is needed in relation to animals and machinery. In particular, close reliable control is required over any dogs taken on paths through/ near farms to avoid conflict with farm animals and machinery.

Taking dogs on public rights of way is popular, but must be done sensibly and lawfully. Sunderland has dog control orders in operation. These define how many dogs can be taken by one person, and associated responsibilities. If you have a dog and take it for walks, it is recommened that you familiarise yourself with the dog control orders which should be read alongside the countryside code and informed advice.

With dogs, please remember to 'bag it, take it away and bin it' - no one likes to step in it, it can be dangerous to sheep and cattle, and it can contaminate crops, especially grass growing to be harvested as hay.

Rights and responsibilities - land managers

Land owners and managers have a range of responsibilities in relation to public access, principally not to cause obstruction or frustration to the public access rights.

If you exercise the right to plough a cross field path, statutory reinstatement periods must be complied with to avoid committing an offence.

If you experience a problem with crime or antisocial behaviour in relation to your land, you can contact Northumbria Police.

New sites and gates can sometimes be authorised where they are necessary to prevent the ingress or engress of animals, where land is being used for or being brought into use for agriculture of forestry or the breeding or keeping of horses. Their installation without Highway Authority authorisation under s.147 of the Highways Act 1980 is unlawful obstruction. Maintenance of stiles and gates is normally the responsibility of the land owner, who can request a 25% contribution of the reasonable costs of doing so from the Highway Authority.

In accordance with the 'least restrictive access' principle Tyne and Wear Rights of Way Improvement Plan, the Highway Authority would prefer a gap before a gate before a stile, will normally require structures to comply with British Standard 5709-2006, and may propose a more accessible structure where appropriate (eg with additional steps for a stile).

Where are they and how do I find public rights of way - on the ground

Most public rights of way are signed with white text on green 'flag style' signs where they leave roads. Along the path similars signs, or directional waymark discs with arrows show which way the route goes. The signs normally indicate the direction, status and destinations of the route.

The Ordnance Survey 'Explorer 308' map is a good guide to where they are.

Where are they and how do I find public rights of way - legal record

The legal record or public rights of way, the Definitive Map & Statement (DM&S), is maintained by the Council as Highway Authority. It can be viewed at the Fawcett Street Customer Service Centre.

On-line 'working copy' plans of the definitive map are under development.

For definitive confirmation of whether a property is affected by public highways, both public right of way and adopted highway, and for CON29 searches, please contact Highway.Records@sunderland.gov.uk

Landowner deposits and statutory registers

Under s.31(6) Highways Act 1980  land owners can deposit of statement map and declaration to acknowledge recorded public rights of way across their land, and to prevent new public rights being created through use that satisfies s.31 HA1980 for 'deemed dedication', or under common law. The deposits have effect for their period of validity; they are not retrospective and so do not protect against access rights created before the deposit period.

S.31(6) HA1980 deposits, which relate to linear public right of way access, can be made in conjunction with s. 15A(1) Commons Act 2006, which relate to open acquisition of rights of common. Advice and forms are available at GOV.UK.

We can advise on where expressions of interest in claiming public rights of way other than by formal schedule 14 W&CA1981 application have been made. Until such expressions of interest are determined the case in support of such claims remains open and may change as further evidence becomes available.

Statutory registers:

Formal applications for Definitive Map Modification Orders under schedule 14 of the Wildlife and Countrysidwe Act 1981and Land owner deposits made under s.31(6) HA1980 and s.15A(1) Commons Act 2006 are available.

Developing land affected by public rights of way

The public rights of way network has always and will continue to evolve.

Public rights of way can sometimes be changed to enable development with planning consent to go ahead.

It is advisable to contact the public rights of way engineer at an early stage in order to obtain advice on the best way to handle public rights of way in relation to your proposed development.

You may need to deal with both recorded highway (public rights of way and adopted highway) and unrecorded but well used routes which may have acquired public right of way status under section 31 Highways Act 1980, or under common law.

Early consideration of public right of way and cycle route issues in the planning process can avoid costly delays, and can make them a valuable asset to the development.

Early planning on public rights of way and cycle route issues can make them an asset to development.

What to expect when using public rights of way

Public rights of way may have a built surface of either bound or compressed stone, or may have a grass/soil surface.

Paths across agricultural fields can be ploughed but must be reinstated and made clear within specified time periods (2 weeks for first disturbance for a crop, and 24hrs for subsequent disturbances for the same crop).

The right to use a public right of way is not a guarantee that all will be able to do so. Slopes, steps, stiles, gates, narrowness, surfaces, distances and remoteness from facilities can present practical problems for some people. That said, the network is being managed and developed to increase accessibility for the maximum number of people, and schemes are regularly implemented to improve this, in accordance with our Rights of Way Improvement Plan (appendix D p.260).

Policy relating to transport and public rights of way

  • Policies around access, transport and public rights of way are set out in a number of documents:
  • Tyne and Wear Local Transport Plan 2011-2021 (LTP3) details strategic transport policy.
  • Tyne and Wear Rights of Way Impovement Plan (appendix D of LTP3), sets out strategic plans for public rights of way management and development.
  • Sunderland Strategy 2008-2025 sets out a vision for how the aspirations of people who live work and study in Sunderland will be achieved through partnership.

Tyne and Wear access Forum is a statutory advisory body. It is facilitated by the five Tyne and Wear authorities to enable it to advise the local authorities and various other government agencies on improving access in the area. LAFs hold periodic meetings which are open to the public.

Contact us to report a problem

If you wish to contact us to discuss a public right of way issue, or if you find a public right of way blocked eroded flooded or otherwise difficult to use, you can report the problem to the City and neighbourhood team. If reporting or enquiring about an issue, good location and any other clarifying detail will enable quicker investigation and/or resolution.

If you would like any further information about rights and responsibilities, general enquiries about off-road paths including rights of way, landowner deposits and statutory registers, developing land affected by public rights of way please contact prow@sunderland.gov.uk / 0191 561 2450

Other public routes and open spaces

Public access and active living in Sunderland is supported and promoted by a number of means:

  • Active Sunderland provides advice for how to get involved in a range of sports and physical activities.
  • An extensive network of parks and open spaces
  • An extensive cycle network. Large proportions of this are available to pedestrians, and significant proportions to equestrian access. Sunderland hosts sections of four National Cycle Network routes:
    • NR7 the C2C cycle route
    • NR70 the Walney to Wearside cycle route
    • NR1 running up the North Sea Coast
    • Regional Route 11 the Bowes Railway Path linking Tanfield to Jarrow via Springwell Village
  • Coastal access on foot is transforming after the 2009 Marine & Coastal Access Act. Under the Coastal Access Scheme 2013, Natural England is rolling out stretches of the England Coach Path National Trail. The stretch from Sunderland to Hartlepool was launched in 2014 along our Heritage Coast. Other sections are being rolled out north to Berwick upon Tweed, and south to Kingston upon Hull and Skegness.
  • Open Access on 'mountain moor heath and down, commons and village greens' was set out and is now available, following the Countryside ant Rights of Way Act 2000. Details of CROWA access land in the region can be found via Natural England; the only CROWA access land in Sunderland is Russel Wood at Shiney Row.
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