Sixty years on, path protectors challenge councils to ‘put themselves on the map’

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Councils across England and Wales are today challenged to ‘put themselves on the map’, by the Ramblers and Open Spaces Society, on the 60th Anniversary of royal assent of the Act which the created official maps of public paths (the definitive map).

The visionary 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, passed 60 years ago today (16 December), ordered councils to create a definitive map (1) and record on it all their public rights of way. Inclusion on the definitive map conclusively proves that the path is a public right of way.

Six decades later, however, many major councils—such as Inner London boroughs, Ipswich, Merthyr Tydfil and Swansea – have not created a map, leaving many of their paths vulnerable to closure from developers and private landowners. Some councils, such as Cardiff and Norwich, have still not produced maps for all of the territory; and some have backlogs of applications for paths waiting to be mapped – in some cases the backlogs are for 20 or 30 years.

The Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society are calling on councils to provide funding and resources towards ‘putting themselves on the map.’

Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary, comments: ‘The unique definitive-map law of England and Wales legally enshrines the public’s right to use paths, and it should be the envy of the rest of the world.  It’s scandalous that many councils have spent six decades ignoring it!

‘The 60th anniversary of the definitive-map legislation serves as a wake-up call to councils who are dragging their feet. We are challenging these councils to protect their paths and put themselves ‘on the map’, before another anniversary rolls round.’

She continues: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied. Public rights of way are some of the most ancient features in our landscape and we have the right to enjoy them, but if they are not shown on the map how can we know this?  And if they are secret they have little protection from obstruction or development. So the definitive map needs to be funded properly, to ensure it is complete and kept up to date.’

Councils currently ‘off the map’ or whose maps are incomplete

• All Inner London boroughs (2)
• Cardiff City
• Ipswich borough
• Merthyr Tydfil County Borough
• Norwich City
• Swansea City and County

(1) The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 required every county council in England and Wales to produce a definitive map, through a process of surveys, provisional map and court hearings, with a review every five years.  The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 amended the law so that the maps were reviewed continuously.  Claims to add paths to the map can be made at any time, on the basis of 20 years use by the public, without being challenged, or on the basis of historical evidence, that the path was once a highway and its status has not been removed in law.

(2) The inner London Boroughs have a discretion, not a duty, to produce maps

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