In July 2013 the Government presented a draft Deregulation Bill for consultation purposes, in which a small part is devoted to rights of way. A Joint Parliamentary Committee started hearing evidence about the proposals in the Bill in October. The Peak District Green Lanes Alliance (PDGLA) has been waging a prolonged war against desecration of Peak District green lanes by offroaders, and resolved to make a submission. Its Chairman duly appeared before the Committee on 4 Nov 2013. The Green Lanes Protection Group (GLPG, founded by GLEAM in 2005 and of which PDGLA is a member) was closely involved in preparatory drafting of the representation, and attended the Committee in support. The subsequent Committee Report is at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201314/jtselect/jtdraftdereg/101/10107.htm#a59 in which paras 147-154 relate. Although the Committee set its face against new measures from the outset, it noted the scale of the offroading problem and the level of support for measures to tackle it, and called on Government for action. The need for reform is recorded in para 154. Written evidence was submitted to the Committee from PDGLA, GLEAM, GLPG, The Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance (YDGLA), Friends of The Ridgeway and many individual members and sympathisers.
On 23 Jan 2014 the Bill itself was presented to Parliament. In the original draft Bill, only 7 clauses (Clauses 12 to 18) and 1 schedule (Schedule 6) in a 65-clause and 16-schedule Bill concerned Rights of Way. These generated more correspondence than the rest of the Bill put together. However, it gave us an opportunity to amend current Rights of Way legislation. PDGLA decided to grasp this opportunity to try and correct the particular problem of mechanically propelled vehicles (MPVs) using and damaging unsealed green lanes. It was an opportunity which would probably not come again for several years.
Many of these green lanes are outside the clutches of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERCA), being on the List of Streets (LoS) kept by all Surveying Authorities (which does not record the level of rights), but not on the Definitive Map and Statement (DMS) (which does). They are commonly referred to as Unclassified County Roads (UCRs), even though this is an obsolete term. Being on the LoS indicates that the way is maintainable at public expense, and no more. It is no indication of vehicular rights.
Our proposal is to reclassify all unsealed UCRs (UUCRs) as restricted byways (RBs) i.e. open to users on foot, on horseback or leading a horse, and to vehicles other than MPVs, i.e. open only to horse-drawn vehicles and bicycles. There would be exception clauses for the normal road network, for access, and for ways that are clearly footpaths or bridleways or have no public rights at all. Because UCRs are not on the DMS, classification of UUCRs as RBs will not remove any established rights. Anyone with unproven public vehicular rights will lose the chance to prove them, and no public consultation will be needed. Such a measure would be highly deregulatory in removing a large burden from the shoulders of local authorities who are, in some cases, going through the lengthy process of trying to determine what rights should exist on each individual UCR. There is a precedent for such blanket reclassification when, following Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, all remaining Roads Used as Public Paths (RUPPs) were reclassified as RBs in 2006.
Another major factor is the cut-off date in 2026 for altering the definitive map, at which point, for complex legal reasons, it will become impossible to prevent MPV use of UUCRs where no such rights exist.
The provisions of the Bill are intended mainly to enshrine the consensus proposals put forward by the Stakeholder Working Group (SWG) in March 2010 after two years’ work. These concerned only procedural matters which Defra are promoting as being deregulatory. These measures only tinker with the underlying problems, and far more radical reform is required. It is known that Defra is intent on keeping the SWG measures intact as they were formulated as a package. The PDGLA proposals do nothing to undermine them; indeed they would in fact complement them.
GLPG drafted the PDGLA amendment and agreed to stand as promoter, given the far wider range of members it represents. The amendment was introduced by John Hemming (MP for Birmingham Yardley) as New Clause 2 on 11 March, but was sidelined by House Officials for reasons which were unfounded. A new amendment was introduced (and debated) instead, inviting the Government to consult further and report on the problem, but this amendment was withdrawn as the Government now proposes to set up a second SWG with the objective of reaching a consensus as to the motor vehicle problem. Anyone with any experience of the issue knows that consensus is a pipedream.
The way ahead lies in pursuing the matter in the House of Lords. Although the Government has so far declined to include any new measures on offroading in the Bill, GLPG and PDGLA are greatly encouraged by the official recognition of the need for reform and the level of awareness that has been generated.
Progress of the Bill can be followed at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/deregulation.html. It has passed all its Commons stages and its First and Second Readings in the House of Lords. The House of Lords Committee Stage is due to start on 21st October. In the Lords Committee Stage the Bill will be examined line-by-line, and it is here that most amendments can successfully be inserted. We have a cross-party team of Peers who are ready and able to put our amendment forward. For any proposed amendment to be included in this Bill, it must be deregulatory, which is the main purpose of the Bill; otherwise it will stand no chance of being included.
One objection to this amendment was raised by one member of GLPG. This was that some landowners may have a UUCR running across their land. If this was previously used only as a footpath or bridleway, reclassifying it as a RB would increase the public rights across the land, which some landowners might not wish to do. Having agreed that this could be a disadvantage in some cases, the amendment has been modified to accommodate the problem.
Much as we would have liked to include unsealed Byways Open to All Traffic (UBOATs) in this blanket reclassification, it would undoubtedly remove rights from motorised users. This would require lengthy public consultation to achieve, and at this stage there is simply not time to do this. Also this could not be said to be deregulatory (the main objective of the Bill), so the concept did not achieve recognition. The ultimate objective remains.
A further point that we are proposing, though not as an amendment to the Bill, concerns the Government proposal to set up a second SWG. The first SWG, set up late in 2008, after numerous lengthy sittings produced a controversial report two years later in March 2010. This formed the basis for drafting the Rights of Way part of the Deregulation Bill. There remain so many controversial questions which are still unanswered that the Government has proposed a second SWG to resolve them and to achieve consensus. We have firstly questioned the need for such a SWG at all. Secondly, as such a SWG would have some members who want to have MPV rights on Rights of Way, and other members who do not, the chances of consensus lie somewhere between the improbable and the impossible. We are therefore urging that, if such a SWG has to be set up, it should be required to report, even with a minority report, within a very short timescale. The longer the SWG goes on, debating and failing to agree on fundamental issues, the longer the off-roaders will have to use controversial routes, and to cause huge damage to them.