Bushey and District Footpaths Association

BADFA is a Registered Charity committed to caring for public rights of way
Centred in Bushey, Hertfordshire, but taking a wide view. Incorporating Watford Fieldpath Association (Founded 1898)

Items on this page:
A stile that could be anywhere

Dizzy heights

New British Standard for Gaps, Gates & Stiles

Stiles, Gates and other Obstructions
How they get there
Where they are listed
Whose benefit are they for
How are they authorised
How are they removed
Gap, Gate or stile?

A note on path surfaces, a tryout

Are these people more important?
Watford's definition of a Kissing Gate

Path Structures: Gaps, Gates & Stiles

A Style in Hertfordshire, but could be anywhere.
Dizzy Heights
Crossing a stile on the Bushey Festival Walk. July 2002.

This stile greatly slowed up the walk when many people were wanting to get moving because of very active horses in the field. The absence of any handholds made it quite difficult for most people. So did the absence of a post to lean against. The step was too narrow. So far as BADFA knows the stile was unlawful. It had been been put up fairly recently on a new fence and County Hall could provide us with no details of any approvals.

Had it been approved in an order or under HA80 s147 which specified BS5709, then it would have to be put in order by the landowner or removed by the landowner or failing that, by the highway authority. If not approved, a good gate or kissing gate should be considered for authorisation (see below). And should action be taken against the erector?
Revised British Standard for Gaps, Gates & Stiles Least Restrictive Option BS5709:2006

Note, at November 2009, a further revision is underway.

A further revision of BS5709, the British Standard for Gaps Gates & Stiles is now out. BADFA Chairman Chris Beney and Secretary Phil Wadey both made contributions to it. It is called BS5709:2006 (ISBN 0 580 48107 7). It is essentially a tidy-up of the 2001 version which made fundamental changes to the original 1979 version. These 2001 changes were endorsed by the Countryside Agency and the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association were involved in it, as were the Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers' Association, and others. In 2006, in view of the current interest in Restricted Byways, one new type of structure was included: the Kent Carriage Gap.

BS5709 :2006 states that stiles should not be used for new structures except in exceptional circumstances and that where a structure is needed on a path a Gap should be the first choice, a Gate the second choice and a Kissing Gate a third choice.

It provides functional guidance for structures that would comply, giving examples, but lays down no particular construction methods or materials.

It is an ongoing standard in that compliance is dependent on the structure continuing to comply both with the physical characteristics and with the actual needs for the particular type of structure.

The specifications for stiles in particular only applies to existing lawful stiles and for purposes of repair or rebuild. Only quite exceptionally may new stiles ever be used. The aim of the standard is to allow diversity of design so it is couched in functional terms eg the height of steps and crossbar, the verticalness of posts, the strength of steps, the size of object that must be able to pass through a kissing gate (a one metre diameter cylinder on end). To help readers, drawn examples are given. They do not have to be followed and any design complying with the rules is OK. There are several gates and kissing gates, a wide and a narrow stile, a stone stile, a horse stile (or motorcycle trap) and a dog gate. Also a Kent Carriage Gap for use on restricted byways. A valuable feature is that it is an ongoing standard. If at any time the structure fails to meet all the rules it is no longer to the standard. For those of you familiar with Highways Act 1980 Section 147, any such failure would render any properly worded S147 permission void with great benefit for enforcement of good repair. Some designs were felt by the committee who revised it to be unlikely to be able to meet adequate convenience. These included the Vee stile and the ladder stile, although an attempt was made to design a safe and convenient ladder stile.

We have a viewing copy of BS5709 that may be borrowed (01923-211113)

An introductory guide to BS5709 is available on

The full standard BS5709:2006 (ISBN 0 580 48107 7) may be purchased from libraries, bookshops and from:
 BSi British Standards, 389 Chiswick High Road, London W4 4AL.

Note: This article was mostly written in the early 1990s. In some areas of the country the perceptions referred to will still be as valid as ever, but in other areas, dare I say to some extent because of dissemination of articles like this one, gates, especially kissing gates, are being seen as indicative of public path status. Sometimes paths with kissing gates are seen as likely to be better cleared and better maintained than those with stiles.

What do most of us think when we see a stile? Ah! a public footpath!
What do most of us think when we see a gate? Hum! private property!

Not quite true? But near enough I expect.
Most people see stiles as an invitation to walk, a reassurance that it is a public path. Conversely an ordinary gate is seen as an indication that the way is not public, unless the clearest sign on it says so. This misunderstanding is not the only one that I have noticed; the reason for the very existence of this 'path furniture' is little understood by the public and the mechanism for adding gates and stiles (or removing them) is even less comprehended. It is not just the general public that is unclear, landholders, active walkers and some rights of way officers are just as unclear.

How do gates and stiles get to be there?
Some go back a very long time and are assumed to have been there when the path was dedicated, some even since time immemorial. They were a restriction on the complete openness of the path when the landholder granted the right or acquiesced in the use of it. Modern path dedications or creations may also have gates or stiles as restrictions, but see the structuresinorders.htm article below. Some have been put there by the authority of the Highways Act 1980 (S147). These can be put up to control animals on agricultural land with the permission of the Highway Authority or of District Councils that hold an agency agreement. Some, indeed dare I say most, have been put up entirely unlawfully. A very few have been authorised by Act of Parliament, or to prevent danger to path users under H.A.80 s.66(3)

Where are they listed?
They should probably be listed on the definitive Statement that accompanies the definitive Map, but often are not. It is arguable that lawful ones should be added when the definitive map is revised, but that does not seem to happen very often. Any permission under S147 or decisions and actions under S66(3) should be available for public inspection at the Highway Authority offices, or where there is or has been an Agency Agreement with a District Council, but records are often very poor. Access to information legislation will only help if the records actually exist (though such non-existence might help in removing the structure, see below .) The public have a clear need to know which obstructions have been authorised. We must try to see that these details are freely available.

Whose benefit are they for?
Many people think that stiles are for the convenience of the public to help people cross otherwise impassable or difficult fences or hedges. In most cases that view is quite the reverse of the true position but unfortunately it is a view shared by many, public and landholder alike. In fact the gate or stile is usually a concession by the public, to help the farmer stop his animals straying. A right of way, like a lane between fields or a main road, has normally to be kept clear at all times and a gate or stile is a restriction of that right. Sometimes path user groups go mad and put up gates or stiles just because they expect paths to have them. Sometimes Highway Authorities do the same: Stephenson Way's diverted path in Watford had just such an unauthorised and unnecessary gate, put up by the Herts County Council's contractors. That was a few years ago and it would now be rare in that county, but elsewhere who knows? In that case we (BADFA) recycled it elsewhere.

How can these structures be authorised?
The landholder has no right whatever to put up gates or stiles where previously there were none. If he wants them then the Highways Act 1980 S147 allows a local authority or highway authority to grant permission, but only if the gate or stile is for the purpose of efficient agriculture or forestry as well as for preventing the ingress or egress of animals. It cannot be granted for any other purpose. They do not have to grant it, they may make conditions to avoid undue inconvenience to the public's use of the path, and there is no appeal if they simply refuse to grant permission. Remember that the highway authority must act to protect the rights of the public and act against those who seek to interrupt those rights (HA80 s130, R. v Surrey C.C. ex parte Send [1979], etc), so they need to be very circumspect about granting permission for structures which by their very nature restrict those rights. They need give no reasons for refusal though some should be recorded to protect themselves and the public in the unlikely case of a judicial review. Permission for stiles should normally be refused unless some enhancement of the path is offered by the landholder, simply because any stile is in itself undue inconvenience. A good quality gate, well marked to show that it is a Public Path (remember the perceptions at the start of this piece) might sometimes meet the undue inconvenience rule. Where permission for gate or stile is in fact granted, then the requirement to maintain it should be part of any permission. Maintenance of these structures is the landholder's duty, not a kindness. In some cases (though not when maintenance conditions form part of HA80 permissions) the landholder can claim 25% of their costs from the Highway Authority, though I see no reason whatever for this rule.

A good practice sheet for S147 is here
and a very similar sheet is in the OSS information sheet C18 (see the next section below).
Approval forms can be useful, Hertfordshire has one that is pretty good, though it is somewhat confusing on BS5709.

How can these structures be taken down?
By the landholder whenever and however, remember they are for his benefit, not the public's. For illegal gates or stiles removal by users is not advised, though it may in certain circumstances be legal and will certainly be quicker. My County Council, Hertfordshire, has once or twice told landholders of one-time pasture, now arable, that they must remove the stiles, they should do it as routine. If structures can be shown not to be authorised or not to be the type or to the specification authorised, then if not put right they can and should just be removed by the highway authority (easier and quicker than going through the courts as an unlawful obstruction). In many cases there is no authorisation recorded at the highway authority offices. Since such authorisation has to be in writing and if the landholder can't produce it, it may reasonably be assumed not to exist. If it also cannot have been there when the path was dedicated (a diversion or where a new fence has been erected) then it can be assumed to be unauthorised.
Stiles, Gates and other Obstructions
 The Perceptions and Management of Crossing Structures
by Chris Beney .
A sponsored walk held up by a stile in the far hedge.
Gap Gate Stile?

A gate should always be used in preference to a stile, even when the stile is to British Standard. A stile may fall foul of the Disablement Discrimination Act. A good kissing gate is adequately stock proof and will allow passage by the infirm as well as those with pushchairs. Demand for pushchair passable paths is increasing. Please note the word good a good kissing gate above. Nearly all triangular kissing gates are impassable to pushchairs or wheelchairs, some can't even take tubby people, yet well meaning people continue to put them up. The following diagrams illustrate the point, the hatched parts being the internal manoeuvring area:

Triangular gate

Restricted space with triangular construction. Impassable to wheelchairs and most pushchairs. Can be made RADAR lock available to wheelchairs but not ever to pushchairs because the users will not hold RADAR keys.
Unacceptable in most situations.

Rectangular Gate: Even with a very short box there is far more room. Most pushchairs (except some long three wheel cross-country types) can pass and so can some wheelchairs. With a longer box nearly all can pass and can be made RADAR-lock available to all wheelchairs.
Triangular Gate (3ft) With a three foot gate (900mm), a not uncommon design, people on their own have difficulty even if of average weight and girth, let alone people with wheelchairs or pushchairs. Unacceptable in all situations.
But the really modern view is not to have any gate or stile at all unless essential. BADFA put that view into practice in 1993 and removed a stile and fence from the entrance to a path (legally), leaving a gap some four metres wide. One of our members feared that not having a gate or stile would cause the path to be lost to the public after a number of years! Another member worried greatly that motorcycles would soon be roaring in and out. Their fears were unfounded, all we have had so far is the occasional horse and the one or two bicycles that we had when the stile was there.

The design we use locally for a kissing gate for pedestrians, pushchairs, and some wheelchairs is included here.

Example of wooden kissing gate
This conforms to the BS5709 as at Feb 2007, subject of course to such a structure being the least restrictive structure for its situation and being put in correctly (no barbed wire, firm ground etc). Note: circular metal wheelchair kissing gates as for example supplied by Centrewire Ltd ( ) are quicker and easier to erect.
The lower diagram is for flush boundary fence (one side construction). This can be useful with horses [probably self-closing then to the other post] as it may help avoid concern about leg injuries. It is also useful on land-ownership boundaries, requiring only one approval. Sometimes it looks better.

For either arrangement an offset hinge set will ensure reliable self-closing if required. There should be no sharp edges or spikes, especially barbed wire, anywhere on the structure.

Because of the perception problem mentioned at the start of this article it is very important to say 'Public Footpath' on the gate and probably nearby as well. There is a British Standard (BS5709) which supports the Gap Gate Stile approach, stile standards being for repair of existing lawful ones only. The kissing gate design above broadly complies with that draft if a kissing gate is indicated. An introductory guide to BS5709 is available on The full standard BS5709:2006 (ISBN 0 580 48107 7) may be purchased from libraries, bookshops and from: BSi British Standards 389 Chiswick High Road London W4 4AL

Herts County now have a rather good approval form for S147 structure permissions. It is a fairly complicated matter, for instance landholder maintenance should normally be made a condition; then the landholder becomes responsible for 100% of the cost, not the normal 75%. (HA80 s146(1),(4) &(5)). The conditions can include the obligation to keep some fencing stock-proof, to 'harden' the surface near the gate or stile, or anything else to prevent undue inconvenience. The sanction if not done is that the gate or stile becomes an illegal obstruction and can, indeed should, then be removed.


The writer would like to hear about any activity involving gates or stiles that path workers or users are involved in.

He would like to see better understanding of gates and stiles, better quality ones, better administered. He would like to see both stiles and gates reduce in number over the years, he would like, in a few years, to see stiles only in museums as 'bygones', on display with milkmaids' yokes and village stocks.

Finally some things still get decided on emotion rather than logic, and who would dare say they do not prefer the sound of 'kissing gate' over 'stile'?

Feel free to contact us, , about any matters to do with gates and stiles.
A note on path surface, a try-out

Normally BADFA has used crushed limestone or granite for hardening the heavily used area in and around gates. Locally we seem to have the choice, for granite at least, of "10mm" or "3mm to dust". 10mm has proved a bit coarse and a bit rough under foot. Recently in March 2005 we tried 3mm to dust on Bushey 21 . We would have preferred half and half: 10mm, and 3mm to dust, but for 600Kg loads, our current trailer limit, they won't do it. We also did something we have done successfully with gravel in the past, added some 'peat' (actually fine bark) into the top layer. This helps: # to prevent the fine material from sticking to shoes and getting carried away. # to enable and encourage grass to spread across the route and # to give a more natural and pleasing colour than the sand-like look of 3mm to fine.

We also put, as we usually do, a water permeable membrane under the added material.
Are these people more important than path users?

June 2002

We always admire diligence.
So we admire the diligence that County Hall shows when landholders want to put gates on public footpaths in places where none were before.
We also admire the diligence that County Hall shows when householders want to restrict public paths near their houses or within earshot or sight of their houses. Also when local councillors wish to restrict and control.

But having admired the diligence in these two areas, we look to admire the diligence that County Hall shows in preserving and protecting the paths for another category of people, the path users. Diligence doesn't seem so obvious here.

There does seem over the years to have been a remarkable amount of precious officer time spent assisting people who want to restrict paths in one way or another. BADFA is obviously not against restrictions on paths where they are both lawful and truly necessary, but we consider this activity should take second place to clearing obstructions, waymarking and so on. These latter actions are Statutory Duties, the others are merely Powers.

Just two fairly recent examples:

# We understand that money or time was spent counting bicycles on a wide private driveway which is also a public path, and which had been annoying the landholder. These cycles have very little effect on the users of the path beyond occasional annoyance. Yet on that same landholding there are two definitive public paths that are totally blocked by crops and barbed wire and no action is being taken against anyone.

# We have recently heard that all work has been suspended in enforcing a totally blocked path and, despite proven need for it, no waymarking will take place, until the possibility of a diversion for the convenience of the landholders has been fully explored. So what makes landholders and householders so much more important than path users? We don't know. But we will continue to work for path users, whilst recognising of course the legitimate, but usually secondary, aspirations of adjoining landholders and householders.

This amazingly camouflaged and uncomfortable new kissing gate had not been enforced against. It was allowed to stay for about a year until some accommodation was arrived at. The person inside it is 6ft tall.

At Sept 2002.

Hinged gate gone and both stiles destroyed. Hurrah. Diligence? A bit doubtful, it took such a long time and there are still unlawful structures on this route. But it is a good move in the right direction.
Watford's definition of a Kissing Gate

BADFA and the Open Spaces Society made several objections to the Watford local plan, most of which were well received and resulted in satisfactory changes. One such satisfactory change was the inclusion of British Standard 5709 (Gaps, Gates, Kissing gates and stiles) in the plan. Someone at Watford then decided to add a definition of a kissing-gate. This is the quaintly whimsical result:

Kissing Gate. It is a pedestrian gateway that prevents animals to pass through. The gate rests in the closed position, but allows pedestrians to push and pass through, and two persons can kiss one another over the gate.

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