Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rambling through a Legal Minefield

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rambling through a Legal Minefield

Article excerpt

Byline: By Stephen Rouse

Ramblers and motorcyclists are at loggerheads over access to the countryside. Stephen Rouse reports on a noisy struggle for the silent places.

Britain's maps are a mess. They show a tangle of footpaths, bridleways, green lanes, Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) and Roads used as Public Paths (RUPPs).

The legal situation is equally messy. Walkers, cyclists, trail bikers, quad bikers and horse riders are unclear who has what rights on which routes, some tarmacked, others just muddy tracks.

In an effort to clarify matters, the Government is putting the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill through parliament.

It rules any footpaths or bridleways on the Government's own definitive map as of May 19, 2005 out of bounds to motor vehicles. It also removes motorists' right to get routes upgraded to BOATs.

Alan Kind, Newcastle-based motorsport and planning officer for the Land Access and Recreation Association, says many footpaths and bridleways on the definitive map are actually unregistered minor roads which have been driven on for years.

He said: "The effect essentially is to extinguish the public's right to use motor vehicles on roads which for any reason haven't had their public rights recorded or had them misrecorded.

"This includes people who drive on green lanes for recreation, but also has very serious effects on people who live along these roads.

"What the Government is proposing to do is to allow householders a private right to drive down these roads but that has to be founded on the existence of a public right. They will still have to prove that public right and have a short window of time to do this.

"A solicitor rang me recently to say the implications of this will be a widespread property blight because of uncertainty over access.

"In the North-East it is not as big an issue as further south where there is a lot of housing development around unmade roads. However there are footpaths and bridleways marked on maps around the urban fringes.

"This won't just affect landowners, it will be hang-gliders, canoeists, potholders ( anyone who needs a vehicle to get to their activities."

The outdoor activities lobby feels particularly aggrieved because they felt they had agreed a working arrangement with the Government based on sustainable routes in current use. Now they have been told to accept what is laid down on the map ( whereas ramblers have 25 years to come up with a definitive footpath map under the Right to Roam legislation.

Mr Kind said: "The bobble hat brigade in the House of Commons turned on the minister Jim Knight and forced him to bring in a far more Draconian scheme. The ramblers seem to have inherited the earth again."

Ramblers counter that the legislation is much-needed. …

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