National Federation of Bridleway Associations

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Deregulation Act 2015

The Deregulation Act 2015 received royal assent on 26 March 2015. Sections 20 to 27(Use of Land) and the accompanying Schedule 7, include clauses that change some of the laws governing rights of way in England.  The clauses vest powers in local authorities (LAs) to reach agreement with land owners and managers about the status and route of claimed rights of way. The measures are also intended to simplify and speed up the legal procedures for making corrections and alterations to the definitive map.

For more information please see the helpful explanation of the  Provisions in more detail published on the Open Spaces Society website.

Our Concerns

During the passage of the Bill through Parliament, the consensus reached by the members of the Stakeholder Working Group (SWG) was hailed as a triumph by politicians; allowing any potentially negative outcomes to be played down.

We are extremely concerned that serious scrutiny of this legislation (on behalf on the public) was suppressed. We believe it weakens the position of the public and fails in its claim to simplify the law. Please take time to read John Trevelyan’s Analysis and Commentary and the legislative reforms involved in the Deregulation Bill 2014. Mr Trevelyan is co-author of Rights of Way: a Guide to Law and Practice, 2006 and is an acknowledged expert on the subject.

The 2015 General Election and the Referendum 2016:

A further concern is that the Deregulation Act is not complete in itself. It is only part of a package of recommendations agreed by the Stakeholder Working Group.  The rest of the package will have to rely heavily on (as yet unknown) ‘guidance’ and secondary legislation in order to maintain the fairness and balance at the heart of the SWG agreement.

But, with two changes in government since the legislation became law, there is no way that continuity is assured. Put simply, the public were sold ‘a pig in poke’.

With only half the legislation in place the SWG has been disbanded:

  • Will the rest of the ‘package’ be implemented?
  • Can government guarantee an honest and fair re-evaluation England’s legally recorded rights of way in time for the ‘cut-off date’ in 2026?

Why this is particularly important to horse riders and carriage drivers:

  • they are the most disadvantaged by the widespread under-recording of rights of way as footpaths (Countryside Commission, Rights of Way in the 21st Century, 1999);
  • establishing the higher status of bridleways and byways relies mainly on historical documentary evidence – this will cease to be an option in 2026;
  • higher-status routes will be the most affected by the reduction in the number of claims due to the lack of funding and the raising of the evidential tests, as projected by the Impact Assessment (IA) that accompanied the clauses;
  • Government has yet to decide what to do about the 40,000 unadopted roads (last quantified in 1972), many of which are used every day for riding and driving and cycling. If all these need to be claimed it will put an enormous burden on local authorities and the public – in addition to the estimate in the IA.
  • and, crucially, if there is widespread failure by the local authorities to process our claims (as has happened in the past), the onus will be on horse riders and carriage drivers to apply to the magistrates court for an order to the authority to determine the application. The IA estimates this will cost £200 a time; in the event of multiple applications, the cost will be prohibitive to the voluntary researcher. The IA describes this as an ‘effective deterrent’ – what more do we need to know about the true intentions behind this legislation?

Draft Bill - Our Response

The Draft Deregulation Bill was published in July 2013 along with a briefing note on the rights of way clauses and an Impact Assessment. A Parliamentary Joint Select Committee was appointed to scrutinize the Bill. Following a call for evidence in writing, it has since taken verbal evidence from various interested parties.  It published its report in December 2013.

Here is the Written evidence  submitted by the National Federation of Bridleways Associations and the South Pennine Packhorse Trails Trust. The Joint Select Committee took on board our concerns at points 144 & 145 in their findings on the rights of way clauses, which they carried through to their conclusions

Also of interest are the written submissions made by John Trevelyan and Peter McKay

 Although it is common ground between all parties affected by the recording of rights of way in England that the current process is overcomplicated, we are yet to be convinced that the new measures contained in this Bill are capable of restoring an adequate national network of bridleways by 2026. The historical background which has led up to the disadvantaged position that horse riders find themselves in today reveals a great deal about the pitfalls associated with rights of way legislation

How this legislation has come about

The primary legislation in this Bill is part of a package of proposals based on the recommendations of the Stakeholder Working Group (SWG) in its report Stepping Forward.  Because some of the proposals may also be facilitated using secondary legislation, the group’s work is still on-going.  It has recommended to the government that: ‘. . . these balanced proposals continue to be regarded as a complete package that will be implemented in full.’ However, it is likely that there will be more amendments during its passage through Parliament.

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