Kent Ramblers

Improving our Rights of Way

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 rethink.

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 here.

  • 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 Order.

  • 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 Potter

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.


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