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Action by GLPG to reduce the impact of off-roading

April 2016, updated June 2020

In the enactment of the Deregulation Act 2015 GLPG was very active in pushing for an amendment to reduce the impact of off-roading. The objective was to classify some or all green lanes (Unsealed Unclassified County Roads, or UUCRs) as restricted byways. For complex reasons, the amendment was withdrawn in exchange for a promise by the Government to resurrect the Stakeholder Working Group (SWG) whose years of work had resulted in a section in the 2015 Act, short but jealously guarded by Defra as drafted. The intended phoenix was popularly to be known as ‘SWG2′, and GLPG was expecting to have a seat at the table, to be occupied by our member Peak District Green Lanes Alliance (PDGLA). Together with able assistance from Yorkshire Dales GLA, they have been spearheading the battle against highly damaging off-roading in the Peak District National Park. SWG2 (under the name of the Motor Vehicle Stakeholder Working Group, MVSWG) had its first meeting in November 2016. Unfortunately, the work of the group came to what GLEAM and GLPG hope will be a temporary halt at its fifth meeting in May 2018. The details are as follows.

When MVSWG was convened, under the chairmanship of a Natural England official, it soon became clear that although the group was charged to come up with a consensus on the management of green lanes, consensus would be elusive. The group had representatives from the motoring organisations, from green lane campaigners such as GLEAM and other members of GLPG, and local government officials with experience of green lane management in various localities. Sub-groups were established. One sub-group’s job was to try to clarify the rights of way status of unsealed Unclassified County Roads (UCRs), including recommendations about the signs that should be erected to guide the public’s understanding of who is legally entitled to use any particular route. On one side, some members stuck to DEFRA’s understanding of UCRs – ie that all that can be said for certain is that they are maintainable at public expense: no general assumptions may be made about what public rights of way subsist on UCRs, beyond rights on foot. From the other side, vehicle user representatives insisted that UCRs must be recognised as having public rights for motor vehicles and should be signed as such. Stalemate. Another sub-group was supposed to come up with recommendations about management techniques, and, in particular, the role of traffic regulation orders (TROs) in green lane management schemes. From one side, the representatives of groups opposed to recreational motoring made a considerable compromise by suggesting that where vehicle use causes no significant damage or nuisance and provokes no complaints from the public, or concern from local authority officers, nothing should be done. Green lane management measures should be considered only when a lane becomes a matter of concern. Then, it was argued, the authorities should immediately make a thorough survey of the condition of the route, the amenity of users, and the landscape value of the lane. Then it should decide what measures are required, including the immediate imposition of a TRO if the survey concludes that the lane is fundamentally unsuitable for vehicular use. From the other side, vehicle user group representatives rejected this approach and argued in favour of the present practice of trying to ameliorate problems in various ways, and keeping TROs as a very last resort. Again, stalemate.

Meanwhile, a House of Lords select committee had recommended, in March 2018, not the withdrawal of rights for non-essential motors to use green lanes, (which is what we had been hoping for), but that the government should make the TRO process simpler and cheaper for highway and national park authorities to manage problems on green lanes. Following this recommendation, Natural England sent out a survey to all highway and national park authorities in England, in August 2019, asking them to say how effective they find the current management measures to be. MVSWG has not been informed so far (May 2020) of the response to this survey. It is reasonable to suppose that Brexit and coronavirus are consuming most of the time available to civil servants, and MVSWG is not high on their list. When MVSWG will reconvene is unknown. When it does, whether a consensus will eventually emerge is uncertain.