Anyone walking the path would not know until they arrived at the point where the path is physically obstructed that their onward route was blocked. Realistically, they would then have to turn back. It is unlawful to obstruct a highway so there is no difference in that respect between obstructing a footpath or a road. If there is a difference otherwise then it would be the greater number of people inconvenienced by any obstructions on a road and the swifter and decisive reaction of Bedford Borough Council and others to have the obstructions removed.
Sections 130A-130D of the Highways Act 1980 enable any person to serve a notice on a local highway authority, requesting it to secure the removal of an obstruction on a public right of way. Should the authority refuse or fail to take action, the applicant can seek a Magistrates' Court order compelling the authority to act.
Here's the sequence as I understand it:
1. Complainant must serve a request notice on the highway authority, detailing the alleged obstruction and providing details of the offender if known.
2. Within one month the highway authority must serve a notice on the person named and any other persons who they believe are responsible informing that a notice has been served on the authority.
3. The highway authority must also inform the complainant advising him of the landowners they have served notice on and stating what its intention is, if any, to remove the obstruction.
4. If the highway authority fails to respond within one month or its response does not satisfy the complainant then the complainant can take his case to the magistrates' court. Before doing so the complainant must serve notice on the highway authority of his intention to do so.
5. The court will hear the case and decide whether the case meets the requirements of S130A and if so whether or not to make an order to have the obstruction removed.
Here's a copy of my letter dated 31 January where I served notice on the council:
I wrote to your Council on 7th January about the obstructions which have been erected either side of the railway lines on Wymington Footpath No. 5. However, I now know that the Council were aware of the obstructions before Christmas last year.
What makes these obstructions more serious is that Footpath No. 5 is subject to a diversion order (Bedford Borough Council (Wymington: Part of Footpath Nos 3, 4 and 5; Podington: Part of Footpath Nos 6 and 27) Rail Crossing Diversion Order 2013).
In my letter dated 28 January 2014, I made the strongest possible representations against the Council and Network Rail for preventing the public from walking the routes to be diverted during the course, of what now seems to be, the whole of the objection period.
When called upon to do so, the Council has not had the obstructions removed.
For this reason I now serve notice on your council, pursuant to Section 130A(1), Highways Act 1980, requesting it to secure the removal of the obstructions without delay.
I would be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this notice.
OSS Local Correspondent, Bedford Borough
Form 1 pursuant to Section 130A(1), Highways Act 1980
Open Spaces Society letter dated 28 January 2014
Copy of order plan
Photo print of obstruction on northern side of railway lines