Norfolk Ramblers and CLA welcome Defra proposals to simplify rights of way legislation
Landowners and ramblers' groups have both welcomed government proposals to modernise the process of recording rights of way.
Defra minister Richard Benyon announced a public consultation yesterday on plans to improve the policy framework and cut the amount of time it takes to register routes.
A cut-off date set in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 means that all unrecorded footpaths and bridleways created before 1949 cannot be recorded after 1 January 2026.
But the consultation document says the complex legal process to register routes meant that some of those applications were unlikely to be completed before the deadline.
The streamlined proposals, developed in consultation with groups such as the Ramblers and Country Land and Business Association (CLA), are aimed at ensuring more historical rights of way can be recorded before they are lost.
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As well as making it easier for walkers, horse-riders and cyclists to protect unrecorded rights of way, the proposed system could give local authorities clearer powers to work with landowners and is expected to save �20m a year by cutting needless bureaucracy.
It also aims to ensure landowners' applications to move rights of way could be more readily approved if they do not affect the public's enjoyment of it, while redundant routes and unsubstantiated claims would be prevented from getting in the way of farming and business interests.
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Ian Mitchell, footpath coordinator for the Ramblers' Norfolk area, welcomed the proposals and said he believed a collaborative approach between landowners, footpath users and local authorities was the best way to resolve potential disputes.
'If there is enough evidence to support a claim the county council can approach the landowner and see what they think about it,' he said. 'They may go back to the applicant to say they would rather the route goes up the side of a field rather than through the middle, but it can be fairly quickly settled. I think that was the aim of the stakeholder working party, with the hope that a large number of these claims could be settled like that and reduce the confrontational approach that is inherent in the current set-up.'
Mr Mitchell estimated that as many as 200 unclaimed footpaths could exist in the county, and said 18 of the 42 rights of way claims notified to the Ramblers Association in Norfolk since 2007 were still unresolved.
CLA Norfolk chairman Roly Beazley said the consultation would allow land managers to put their legitimate concerns forward and cut red tape.
He said: 'This consultation marks the first stage in reducing the needless bureaucracy that plagues public rights of way. It is wholly unacceptable that it takes so many years for rights of way issues to be resolved. We welcome the report's recommendations that seek to improve the present incomprehensible procedures.'
While announcing the proposals, environment minister Mr Benyon said: 'Footpaths, bridleways and trails are the life-blood for many rural communities, providing access to our world-renowned landscapes. Our changes will help protect access for the thousands of people who walk, ride and cycle in the countryside every week.'
Defra also opened a �2m grant fund yesterday for applications from local communities to improve access to rural areas in ways that will boost the regional economy.
The Paths for Communities initiative is part of the Government's �165m Rural Economy Growth Review announced in November. Local volunteer groups are invited to bid for funding to create new rights of way or increase the accessibility of existing ones.
?For more information on the consultation, see www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2012/05/14/improve-rights-of-way.