What is a public right of way?

In England and Wales, public rights of way are paths on which the public have a legally protected right to pass and re-pass. They exist for the benefit of the community at large, in the same way as the public road network does. There are numerous footpaths, lanes and alleyways that form a network of public rights of way within Waltham Forest. Many form part of the public highway and are maintainable at public expense. However, some are not part of the public highway, but are accessible to the public and may be useful and busy routes.

Definitive map

The council has a duty to maintain a definitive map and associated schedule of rights of way within its boundaries. There is a legal principle: “once a highway, always a highway”. All public rights of way are highways and once a right of way exists it remains unless and until it is lawfully closed or diverted. This can only happen as a result of legal action by a local authority, a magistrate’s court or a government department, or through an act of parliament.


The council has a duty to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway (including public rights of way). This means we are obliged to keep rights of way open and usable.

Under government legislation, the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act, all highway authorities, including outer London boroughs must produce Rights of Way Improvement Plans (ROWIPs).

A draft Rights of Way Improvement Plan was produced in November 2007. The consultation was held in January and February 2008 and the plan was consequently revised to take account of some of the issues raised. This plan was formally approved in September 2008.

Procedures to amend existing rights of way

Members of the public can request closure or amendment of an existing route, or propose a new right of way be registered. If you would like to take this course of action, please write to:

Head of Highways and Infrastructure
Public Realm
Environment and Regeneration,
Low Hall, Argall Avenue
London E10

Unlawful closure

If you think you know of a public right of way which has been unlawfully closed or made impassable, please complete the evidence form below and return it to the Head of Highways and Infrastructure address in the section above.