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.