Improving our Rights of Way - Our Secretary's View
This article by our then Area Footpath Secretary Keith Potter
was first published in Kent Area News in Autumn 1999.
Although many of the specific issues are now of historical
interest, having been dealt with in the Countryside
and Rights of Way Act 2000, the article illustrates the
detailed work that the Ramblers' volunteers undertake on behalf of all
walkers. Please support our work by becoming a member.
In October 1998 the Countryside Commission issued a document -
"Rights of Way in the 21st Century" It acknowledged that England's 169,000 Km.
RoW network was a "unique asset", being "the single most important means for the public to gain access to and enjoy the countryside".
It said that RoW administration was complex and proposed a package of "improvements".
A number of the main proposals were opposed by the main 'user' organisations, including the RA, because they appeared to weaken the exsisting law and user fights.
The Countryside Commission deliberated on the submissions and, in March this year, sent its "Conclusions and Recommendations" to Government.
In July, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions
(DETR) issued its own consultation document entitled "Improving
Rights of Way in England & Wales". This drew heavily upon the Countryside Commission recommendations but chose to ignore some proposals and introduce a number of new proposals which had not been aired in the past. Kent Area RA conducted a consultation exercise and then forwarded a response to Ramblers' Central Office, who then submitted to Government a single response on behalf of all RA Areas.
The Kent Area comments took up 12 A4 pages, and thanks must go to all of you who sent in your views.
The DETR made 20 major proposals for legislative changes, and mentioned a number of other issues where they wanted further information from interested parties before deciding whether legislation was appropriate.
Some of the Major Proposals
- lt is proposed that all RUPP's (Roads used as Public Paths) be automatically re-classified as bridleways. This has received a mixed response.
- The DETR has indicated that it is "not disposed to pursue the inclusion of unclassified roads on definifive maps". It has long been RA policy that "white roads" - i.e. those uncoloured on the OS maps -should have their status clarified. One never knows whether or not they can be used
and this seemed to be a suitable opportunity. We hope the DETR
will heed the remarks from the RA and from others and will
The "Blue Book" which contains full details
of all the legislative provisions relating to footpath law following the
enactment of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. For
details of how to obtain this book, look
lt proposed that a timescale be set, after which
the ability to 'claim' a RoW will be severely curtailed. In
general, user groups are opposed to this proposal.
Perhaps the most contentious suggestion is that
which reintroduces a proposal, contained in the original
Wildlife & Countryside Bill, which was rejected by the House
of Lords. This proposal would allow Local Authorities to be
their own 'judge and jury' in the case of objections to
Diversion and Extinguishment Orders. At present, any objections
have to be referred to an Inspector appointed by the Secretary
of State. If this proposal passes into law the local authority
will override objections, and confirm what could be a very bad
There are other proposals, said to be derived
from EC Directives, that will affect public RoW. Unfortunately,
the proposals are so woolly that it is difficult to establish
whether they will affect walkers. They propose that local
authorities be empowered to close or divert paths to protect the
countryside and, in particular, bird nesting areas and Sites of
Special Scientific Interest. It may be that the proposals are
only seeking to regulate unwelcome vehicular traffic, but it
might seriously affect walkers' ability to visit many scenic
areas. The DETR is concerned that many RoW are habitually used
by criminals, and is proposing quite wide-sweeping powers to
close paths on the whim of the police.
Keith was in 1999 Area Footpath Secretary for
Kent RA co-ordinating the activities of our 60 FP secretaries and
liaising with KCC and RA Central Office. He is not only a keen
walker, and longstanding member of the RA and of the Downstream
Ramblers, but a doughty fighter against proposals that would
diminish walkers' rights "to use and enjoy'" public RoW.