New package to rescue lost ways

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We have welcomed the package of proposals to government from the Stakeholder Working Group on Unrecorded Public Rights of Way.

The group, consisting of representatives of user groups, landowners and local authorities, was brought together by Natural England to find a solution to recording historic paths many of which have become lost.  Its report, Stepping Forward, is published on 25 March.

Footpath, bridleways and byways are all highways.  The rule is ‘once a highway, always a highway’, but many routes which are highways have not been claimed as such so are not shown on the official (definitive map).  If they have not been used for many years, they may only be claimable by submitting historic evidence of their existence.  The report contains 32 proposals for improving the process of recording ways as public paths.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 introduced a cut-off date, 1 January 2026, whereby unrecorded pre-1949 public rights of way would cease to exist if not specifically preserved by regulations.  The provision has not yet been commenced by parliament.

Applications for path claims which are opposed and have to go to public inquiry may be costly and time consuming.  The group agreed proposals to improve the quality of applications and reduce the likelihood of them being opposed.

Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary who was a member of the working group:  ‘It is vital that the government adopts our 32 proposals in total.  They are a coherent package of measures to improve and streamline the process for recording public paths.  They save time and money and reduce the bureaucracy, while ensuring that our historic highways can be recorded and safeguarded. 

‘Importantly, these proposals have been agreed by all interests—representatives from user groups, landowners and occupiers and local authorities—so it should be possible to introduce them by a legislative reform order rather than new primary legislation.  They improve the process for path claims rather than change the law.

‘These recommendations need to be tested for about five years and then reviewed to see if they are having the desired effect.  We believe they will make a big difference to getting lost highways on the map, so that they may be used and enjoyed by the public—for recreation and as a vital part of our transport system,’ Kate argues.

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