The reclassification of RUPPs to Byways Open to all Traffic was proving particularly controversial. This was mainly because the BOAT status flagged up their use by motorised traffic. Now it was not only the landowners who were resisting: trail riding and off-road motoring organisations were also submitting objections to RUPPs being reclassified as bridleways.
The quiet enjoyment of these routes by horse riders (which had been the original intention of the NPACA, 1949) was caught in the middle of the controversy. In the West Riding alone hundreds of objections were submitted by a motorbike trail-riding group after the county council had decided to restore many of their previously downgraded RUPPs to bridleway status – 30 years on, most of these are still footpaths.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside, 1981, councils were allowed to abandon their ‘special reviews’, leaving thousands of objections unresolved. The reviews were replaced by a ‘duty to keep their definitive map and statement under continuous review’ (s. 53), whereby errors were to be corrected on a case-by-case basis. Councils did attempt to do this, but the BOAT classification was making cases increasingly contentious, complicated and expensive, so progress was slow.
To address this situation, in 1987 the Countryside Commission launched their ‘National Target’ scheme, which challenged every English highway authority to accurately complete their legal record of rights of way by the year 2000. To help Local Authorities achieve this, they also introduced the ‘Milestones’ approach in 1993.
Meanwhile Hansard continued to record more requests to increase the bridleway network throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Because the legal record was still so hopelessly incomplete, the government was obliged to advise that ‘rights of way did not cease to exist simply through failure to record them on definitive maps’. Horse riders had to rely heavily on the legal maxim ‘once a highway always a highway’. But this was not at all satisfactory as, without the added legal protection of being recorded on definitive map, bridleways could be easily blocked – and many were.