National Federation of Bridleway Associations

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Hobhouse Report

The Hobhouse Report, 1947, para. 21

“In spite of the maxim ‘once a highway, always a highway’ it is a fact that a very large number of rights of way are being lost through disuse. Most rights of way in the past were established informally to meet purely local needs and, in the days prior to the invention of the bicycle and the development of the bus, they usually provided the shortest and quickest route to work, to the village or to church. Changes of habit and circumstances during this century have caused footpaths to fall into disuse. Many have already disappeared. Others have become overgrown and are no longer passable. Many of these footpaths would continue to serve a valuable public purpose, not only to enable countryfolk to go about their business but to enable townsfolk to enjoy fresh air and recreation in the countryside. Unless steps are taken before many more years elapse, these rights of way will be forgotten and lost for all time. We consider that it is essential that a complete survey shall be put in hand forthwith so that an authoritative record of rights of way in this country may be prepared before it is too late. To enable the record to be complete and expeditious, effective and economical means must be provided for resolving the legal status of rights of way which are in dispute”, (Report of the Special Committee on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside, Cmd. 7207,1947, London, HMSO)

The Committee’s original terms of reference did not include vehicular access; it was only concerned with the preservation of footpaths, bridleways and driftways. However, the Hobhouse Report was mindful of the existence of numerous vehicular roads throughout the country which private individuals were under an obligation to repair. Although the public also had rights of way over these on foot and on horseback, the highway authorities were, at that time, prohibited from taking over responsibility for their upkeep.

The Committee believed that if the legal record of public rights of way was to be comprehensive and accurate, these roads would need to be included. Therefore, it recommended that in future the highway authorities should become responsible for the maintenance of all roads that were known to be used by the public as footpaths and bridleways.

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