At the beginning of the month a debate about the 2026 cut off date for lodging a claim for an unrecorded Public Right of Way was held in the House of Lords. A summary of the debate is given below:
The debate was opened by Lord Greaves (LD) Vice-President of the Open Spaces Society, who focussed attention onto the situation with which PNFS is all too familiar.
Lord Greaves: “There is a huge backlog involving competing local authorities with diversion and other public footpath orders, enforcements, disputes, commons claims and disputes and so on. In addition, the original definitive maps from 1949 vary hugely in quality and accuracy. Some are hopeless and some are good. Even when they record a route, as I know well from examples in my own area in the Pennines, a bridleway can simply stop at the parish boundary and turn suddenly into a footpath where bridleway rights are not allowed. Sometimes they simply stop where the person who was doing the surveying back in the early 1950s changed over to someone else.
In view of the evidence of the failure to achieve the intentions of CRoW and the provision in Section 56 to allow an extension to 2031, will the Government now make the necessary regulations for the extension? Do they understand that there are thousands of volunteers who are struggling thanks to the time and costs involved, the complexity of the system and the inadequate and seriously reducing resources of local highways authorities to cope? If so, what further assistance will they provide for that process?
I have an additional question: what resources do the Government think are needed to achieve the CRoW aims by 2036 or 2031, and how will they provide them? In view of everything that has happened and of their own failure, will the Government now stand by the historic position of “once a highway, always a highway”, and seek to repeal Section 53 and related sections of the CRoW Act?”
The Earl of Caithness (C) said that “As a footpath walker, I do not want to walk through somebody’s farmyard. It is bad for disease and bad for the farm. There can be hazards. If I am taking my grandchildren
on a walk, I certainly do not want a tractor coming round the corner. We must be able to divert footpaths quicker. There is no doubt that some landowners have been harassed about this in the past.
Getting footpaths diverted is part of what the Government want to do under the new proposals. I ask my noble friend: when will these new proposals come in? When will the Deregulation Act 2015 be fully implemented? The whole system needs to be sped up.”
Speaking as landowner, Lord Carrington argued that “, bearing in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect world, we need to reflect hard on the likely benefits of extending this interminable and expensive process, as well as the harm that is being caused to innocent owners faced with unexpected and at times vexatious legal challenges over their previously unencumbered registered land.”
The Earl of Lytton (CB) argued that “It is self-evident that not all of the network is useful or convenient. Despite significant advances, it suffers from underfunding, poor conditions, bad signage, discontinuity, inadequacy for the range of current users and a sclerotic legal structure”
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab) echoed a view many in PNFS hold “As noble Lords have said, we are now in danger of hitting the 2026 deadline with the job half done. First, we should recognise that walkers are already faced with huge challenges in exercising their rights. It is estimated that 9% of the existing network is impassable, blocked off or unstable. Secondly, the task of identifying the missing historic routes has proved to be much more complicated than was first imagined. Records are incomplete or contradictory. Thirdly, for historic rights of way to be rescued and re-established, local authorities are required to step up to the mark by investigating claims and dealing with objections before a footpath can be officially recognised.
Finally, Baroness Vere of Norbiton said on behalf of the government: “Our aim is for more people to engage with and spend time in the natural environment, and the Government are absolutely committed to enabling that. I reiterate that rights of way are a valuable part of our heritage and an important part of achieving this aim”.
She added: “The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked whether we will go further than reviewing the cut-off date. I cannot commit to that. Certainly, we will go back and look at the cut-off date with the stakeholder working group, but we will not repeal the relevant sections of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. There are arguments on both sides of this issue and at the moment we feel that there are significant numbers of stakeholders, as well as users, who need certainty as to what they are entitled to do and what they are not.”
Click Here to read the full record of the debate.