Permission to proceed

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Before you can start any path construction work you need to consider who needs to be informed of your plans, and whether there are any legal procedures that need to be completed. Trying to catch up and work retrospectively is more difficult and can be costly.

Working with landowners

When you are planning your path network you need to be aware of the needs of land managers as well as those who are likely to use the paths. A common issue that arises in the development of path networks is being able to find ways to provide access for the public with minimal impact on a land manager's operations. Many land managers are realising that paths can be beneficial in managing public access to their land and that they do not have any additional liabilities under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 if people exercise their right of responsible access.

You may find it helpful to discuss ideas with land managers at an early stage in your planning. These discussions may help to identify new opportunities to resolve existing issues as well as avoid creating additional problems. This will also help to define expectations on all sides as there is limited value in trying to build a new path through an area that would have a negative impact on land management operations. Equally, you may be able to persuade a land manager to provide alternative access that will reduce the potential for conflict with their operations.

working with landowners

Realistically there are very few land managers who will allow a path to be built where it will have an adverse impact on their own interests and you may find that some land managers are wary of encouraging public access on their land. There are, however, some benefits for land managers where paths provide an inviting alternative to 'roaming' across the countryside. You may even be able to help unlock funding for the landowner to undertake some of the proposals. Some opportunities exist to improve access that will also benefit the land manager, but you will need to be careful to demonstrate the public benefit of the work, and you could look at asking the land manager for a contribution towards improvements that they may otherwise need to instigate themselves.

If you are looking for funding towards path development it is likely that the funder will ask for some form of legally binding agreement that will secure the investment. This could be a lease or a licence agreement. You will probably need to cover the reasonable costs of developing any agreement.

Planning consent

Local authorities take different approaches to paths across Scotland so it is probably best to speak to your local authority or national park authority access officer and the authorities development planning department, rather than to assume that you can just get on with developing your path network.

If you anticipate building new paths you will probably need to get planning consent from your local planning authority, or may be national park planning authority if the new path to be developed is situated in a national park. Some upgrades of existing paths may be classed as 'de minimis' or permitted development depending on their location. Where you intend to use signs or interpretation around your network, these may be subject to Advertisement Consent, but again this varies between local authorities.

Natural and cultural heritage designations

You will need to make sure that any proposals do not have an adverse impact on natural or cultural heritage, in particular sites that are protected by law. Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland are the two bodies charged with protecting the natural and cultural heritage respectively.

Natural Heritage

The natural heritage, such as the landscape or wildlife, around path networks is part of the attraction for many people who use paths, but it is important to ensure that the path does not have a negative impact on that natural heritage. Some areas are protected by law and you will need to check with your local Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) office whether your paths pass through a designated site.

reinforced grass path on the floodplain river dee sac

Reinforced grass path on the floodplain of River Dee SAC

Depending on the legislative status of the site you may need to get permission to undertake the work and this could affect how you do it, as well as where and when. For example, there may be restrictions on disturbance of birds at certain times of year, or some habitats may be sensitive to damage during the construction phase. For some designated sites, such as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), you may need to provide information to allow an 'appropriate assessment' of your proposals to be made by a 'competent person', to ensure that the designated features will not be significantly impacted on by the path construction work. The scale and scope of that assessment is meant to be proportionate to the proposed work. The best advice is to contact Scottish Natural Heritage and ask for their assistance with minimising any impacts, or helping to enhance the natural heritage around your path network.

Cultural Heritage

As part of the early planning stages, identify historic sites and features of interest and importance around your path network, preferably assisted by an archaeologist. This will ensure that you avoid inadvertent damage to historic sites, and that you are able to make the most of opportunities for enhancement and interpretation of historic features.

Some existing paths may be historic sites themselves – for example, paths following old drove roads, ancient Roman roads or historic towpaths [Heritage Paths]. The fact that a route has been around for hundreds of years is an attraction in itself for users. It may also offer useful pointers when thinking about what is appropriate by way of upgrading or replacement. For example, paths which follow former railway track beds will have a different character to those which follow old farm tracks, while those following Roman roads may require special treatment. In this context you may wish to consult the Historic Landuse Assessment (HLA map) website, which is a source of useful information about earlier land uses.

Some historic sites are protected by law as scheduled monuments and must not be disturbed. You will need to discuss any proposals that relate to changing access to or across scheduled monuments with Historic Scotland.

reinforced grass path to the ring of brodgar

Reinforced grass path to a World Heritage Site: Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

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