NFBA’s priority is to help ensure that our historic network of bridleways and byways is recorded and protected by the time ‘the cut-off date’ is implemented under the Deregulation Act 2015 on 1 January 2026.
The existing rights of way network for horse riders and carriage drivers is fragmented and much of it is inaccurately recorded at footpath status; on 1 January 2026 all un-recorded higher rights will be extinguished.
The majority of these long-standing errors came about when the draft maps of rights of way were compiled or shortly thereafter (explained in our section on Making the Definitive Map).
It is a travesty that, after 60 years and despite numerous assurances from successive governments, most of these errors remain uncorrected.
As a member of the Equestrian Access Forum the NFBA made a significant contribution to Making Ways for Horses (2012). This outlines the challenges we face and what is really needed to restore our network. Download Making Ways for Horses here.
Having encouraged the EAF to produce a strategy, the government has subsequently refused to consider it, choosing to pursue only the recommendations of the Stakeholder Working Group (SWG). Many of the SWG recommendations have now been incorporated into the Deregulation Act 2015 and are already raising issues that will need to be resolved. We will flag these up below as they occur.
However, NFBA is not convinced that the new provisions for processing rights of way claims were ever actually intended to benefit the public. This is demonstrated by:
- the lack of transparency in the way that the SWG arrived at their recommendations,
- the absence of any funding to enable local authorities to complete the task, and
- government delaying tactics.
It is now 18 months since the legislation was given the royal assent and still the government has not issued its all-important guidance on how the new regulations are to be interpreted. Until this happens, local authorities are unable to decide how to proceed.
Funding for Bridleways
Sorry girls, there doesn’t seem to be any
The original purpose of Part IV of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act (NPAACA) 1949 was to record and protect rights of way for walkers and horse riders.
But now Government seems to have completely forgotten that: instead it is channelling practically all the available funding towards walking and cycling (see written answer from the under Secretary of State for Transport). This is damaging the quality and availability of equestrian access. It also means that we are frequently missing out on inclusion in Green Infrastructure schemes as many new Greenways exclude us.
We may not be able to help meet the government’s sustainable transport targets but we have a lot of other things going for us – recreational horse riding is:
- good for your health
- it provides regular exercise
- it contributes a surprisingly large amount to the local economy (especially around towns and cities)
- it is particularly popular among women and young girls
- it can increase business and tourism opportunities
We urge Government not to edit us out of the picture – all that is needed is for the guidance to be rebalanced in favour of our inclusion.
Budget for rights of way maintenance and improvement
Responding to a recent enquiry about bridleway funding from one of our members, DEFRA Minister Dan Rogerson directed her to Rights of Way Improvement Plans (ROWIPs), which local authorities are required to compile under the CROW Act 2000.
ROWIPs were intended to provide local authorities with a long term stable solution for rights of way funding. But as the Ramblers Association Report Paths in Crisis 2013 reveals, the funds that they receive through these is steadily being reduced as ROWIPs become integrated with Local Transport Plans (LTPs).
This is fair enough, except that recent structural reforms to local authority funding (DFT 2012) have refocused the way LTPs distribute money to ROWIPs. The emphasis now being entirely on sustainable transport i.e. walking and cycling (see Natural England Guidance & Good Practice).
And finally – the implementation of the Cut-off Date (Deregulation Bill 2014 Clause 23)
When the cut-off- date (1st January 2026) for claiming rights of way was included in the CROW Act 2000 (Clause 56) government was advised that it should only be implemented if sufficient long term funding resources is in place. Natural England’s 2008 review of the Discovering Lost Ways Project also expressed that view. More recently, the Impact Assessment which accompanies the Deregulation Bill warned that:
“Resource constraints in local authorities could reduce the number of cases considered and so undermine/negate the non-monetised benefits of the stakeholder working group proposals.”
As we have pointed out; resource constraints are only too real where bridleways are concerned and senior DEFRA staff have confirmed there will be no dedicated funding. Therefore it is difficult to see how local authorities will be able to absorb the additional costs of processing our perfectly justified and valid claims.
Successive governments and their advisors have acknowledged that our network is still woefully incomplete for various historical reasons (see Making the Definitive Map), but seem prepared to walk (or cycle) away from a job half done.
Roads at Risk
The Stakeholder Working Group (SWG) on Unrecorded Public Rights of Way, has made the following proposal, but has yet to decide upon the fine detail of how this would work in practice:
“Proposal 25: Routes identified on the List of Streets and Local Street Gazetteer as publicly maintainable, or as private streets carrying public rights, should be exempted from the cut‐off.” “Stepping Forward, Report to Natural England” (NECR035).
This proposal exempts Unclassified County Roads (UCRs) and Unadopted roads/Private Streets, which form the backbone of our bridleway/byway infrastructure from the Government’s plan to definitively map all rights of way by 2026. The SWG rationale for this exemption is:
“doing this would be a major undertaking for many authorities and is not necessarily a good use of public funds …….” – essentially it is too difficult and not a priority.
This is wholly unjustifiable, as considerable uncertainty already exists about the legal definition of the status of these minor roads. For example:
- All the relevant official guidance on UCRs calls their status into question and recommends that they should be examined on a case by case basis.
- Since 1997 UCRs have been shown on Ordnance Survey Maps as ‘Other Routes with Public Access’ (ORPAS). But this classification has now been omitted from the digital mapping system and the OS keep no record if a highway authority alters that classification.
- Even the SWGs own explanation of this proposal describes the List of Streets and National Street Gazetteer as: unreliable records that can be easily altered or lost: they lack both legal status and legal protection.
- Some local authorities (particularly in urban areas) have already wrongly added them their definitive maps as footpaths.
- As it has been made significantly easier for local authorities to alter road classifications; (see Integration of List of Streets and Definitive record of Rights of Way) a great number of them may be at risk of being downgraded to footpaths or completely removed from the record within the next decade.
- Additionally, after 1st January 2026 it will no longer be possible to produce old maps and documents to buttress a claim for higher rights, which all the relevant government departments currently insist is essential.
The point of the cut-off-date in 2026 is to remove uncertainty about the existence and status of rights of way. The correct approach is to resolve uncertainty, not kick the problem further down the road.
Instead, Proposal 25 is more likely to:
- Encourage local authorities to delay resolving these uncertainties until after 2026.
- Delay the collection and collation of valuable historical documentary evidence which supports their use by equestrians.
- Discourage the public from submitting valid claims to protect them, on the basis that they are already protected, when in fact all the evidence suggests they are not well protected at all..
- Result in a lack of legal protection for the main structure of our network for a further 11 years at the very least.
- Severely restrict our ability to prove that they carry equestrian rights after 2026.
Whilst there is merit of providing a safety net to ensure that known public rights along these minor roads will not be extinguished in 2026, it seems short sighted not to consider them at the same time and in the context of our network as a whole.
Nobody in their right mind would suggest that the national road network should be mapped without showing motorways or trunk roads. Why is it being suggested that our national equestrian access network is mapped without these minor roads?
In the absence of better guidance from Government, NFBA members need to contact their MPs, Local Authorities and Local Access Forums (LAFs) to point out the flaws in this proposal.
We all need to work with these bodies to develop a systematic approach to identify our minor road network alongside the rights of way network. The Highway Records Monitoring Group in Herefordshire, are already exploring ways to integrate their highway records with the ROWIP. This has the benefit of allowing us to more easily identify the links which are actually missing and should result in a reduction of the complexity and number of the claims we need to submit.
Integrating Highway Records
Members need to be aware that subtle changes are being made to public highway records. These may impair the evidential value of the records when it comes to claiming equestrian routes and protecting any unrecorded rights from extinguishment in 2026.
Background: Many of the routes that we are currently using (or have used) as bridleways are NOT included on the definitive maps of rights of way. That is because they are already known to local authorities as Unclassified County Roads (UCRs) and Unadopted Roads or Private Streets and are instead recorded on their List of Streets and Local Street Gazetteer.
The Stakeholder Working Group’s (SWG) proposals in their document ‘Stepping Forward’ include Proposal 25. This is intended to protect publicly maintainable roads on the list of streets/local street gazetteer and private streets which carry public rights from the cut-off-date. But:
- Will this be an effective safeguard when the classification of roads has been made so easy for local authorities to alter now?
- Will records of their original classification still be available to the public next week let alone in 2026?
The Changes: Since the arrival of digital mapping the Ordnance Survey (OS) has restructured its service delivery and the way that information on the road network (supplied by local authorities) is now gathered and stored. This information called the ‘National Street Gazetteer’ (NSG) is compiled by the Local Government Association in association with the Ordnance Survey overseen by GeoPlace. The ‘information transport datasets’ are now made available on line by ELGIN through their website roadworks.org, (to check on road classifications in your area, click on the ‘Advanced’ search button, then NSG ‘road status’ & zoom in).
Merging the records: At present in respect of public highways, the OS holds 2 national datasets for England. The List of Streets built up over time and supplied to them by the LAs, and the Definitive Maps of Public Rights of Way (PRoW) which is also supplied by the LAs. The two datasets are in the process of being integrated into one map. By streamlining asset management, the aim is to save money whilst making the record more accurate and easily available.
To facilitate the process the Government has given Local Authorities greater control over the roads classification system. At least one pilot project in Northumberland has already flagged up problems identifying bridleway rights along privately maintained roads.
But the new classification codes for roads have not yet been definitely decided upon and are not easily understandable to members of the public. We are very grateful to the Highways Record Monitoring Group for keeping us up-to-date with the latest developments.