By Christian Woodhouse, head of data, Search Acumen 
Public Rights of Way (PRoW) are a national institution enjoyed by millions of people. Many of them are hundreds, in some cases thousands of years old, often created by people walking across the land to work, hunt, market, or to visit the next village, church, or school and are since being safe-guarded by protective laws.
Within the law, any person can legally “pass and repass along the way” of a PRoW whenever they wish, on foot, bike or horse. England and Wales are not unique in the preservation of PRoWs, but after a couple of thousand years, we have built up a significant network of protected paths.
But beyond the privileges PRoWs grant, they can also be a deal breaker for property developers and purchasers when assessing the suitability of a new site or piece of land.
Why PRoWs matter to legal professionals
Identifying PRoW information is critical in the property transaction process. For example, a commercial client recently bought a plot of land to develop a clay pigeon shooting range, only to find part way through the purchase process that a PRoW cut straight across the property, hindering the developer’s plans.
Until now, property lawyers and their clients would have to wait weeks to learn whether land or property was affected by or in proximity to a PRoW – potentially delaying the discovery of issues which can ultimately jeopardise a successful deal.
If a lawyer does find that a PRoW intersects a development too late, they have little ability to overturn the right. Just ask Madonna or Jeremy Clarkson – the stars have hit headlines in recent years in their attempt to stop the public walking across their land. In both cases they were unable to block PRoW rights, even with teams of expensive lawyers at their disposal.
More datasets mean more power to property lawyers
We recently added PRoW data to the ForeSite platform; t. he 23rd dataset of its kind which offers property lawyers and professionals upfront PRoW insight. A process that once took weeks or months can now be completed in just a few clicks without even visiting the plot, saving time and money.
The new PRoW dataset is obtained from all available PRoW digital data sources from Local Authorities, or about 95% of all PRoW information on record. The dataset boasts detail of more than 133,000 miles (214,882km) of public footpaths, byways open to all traffic, restricted byways and bridleways that by law are open to the public, even if they cross private land.
The ability to assess huge raw datasets and distil them into actionable insights right on the screen is what sets us apart. Over the last few years, the Government has been committed to releasing many gigabytes of raw data for land and property in England and Wales and we built our ForeSite platform in direct response to the proliferations of these thousands of datasets, as we saw the potential that this data creates for commercial property lawyers and conveyancers.
This technology changes the way property lawyers do business for the better. By cutting out the laborious task of chasing paperwork from many different sources, lawyers can begin to shift their focus from administrative duties to consultative tasks. Instead of being mired in bureaucratic paperwork, they can begin to take the lead in highlighting risks, opportunities and issues up-front, offering valuable insight at a time when it’s needed most.