NFU update: Westminster briefing on protecting public rights of way

Footpath through a field

NFU access policy adviser Dr Mhari Barnes reports from a Westminster Briefing event on the latest policy and legal developments following the 2015 Deregulation Act.

She writes:

The aim of the event was to discuss the 2015 Deregulation Act and any policy updates. Unfortunately, due to Brexit there has been very little progress with the Reforms package part of the Act that is crucial to be instated to allow for, among other things, the easement of diversion and modification orders.

The morning session focused on access policy and legislation with speakers from ADEPT’s Rights of Way Managers Group and the CLA’s national access adviser Sophie Dwerryhouse.

The main topics discussed included:

  • Implementing the Deregulation Act: what to expect and how to prepare
  • Understanding the guidance and regulations
  • Recording, diverting and extinguishing Public Rights of Way: helping local authorities meet the 2026 cut-off
  • Ensuring a balance between public and private interests
  • Simplifying and speeding up the process for determining whether unrecorded rights of way exist
  • Meeting the administrative and legal costs of processing public path orders
  • Finding evidence to prove or disprove the existence of a right of way

NFU Yearbook 2019 to 2020

I presented in the afternoon session which focused on:

  • Current and future good practice in recording Public Rights of Way
  • Effective partnership working between local authorities, landowners, occupiers and others
  • The impacts the Deregulation Act and Public Rights of Way in general has on agriculture including, hare coursing, livestock worrying and disregard for the countryside as a working environment
  • The opportunity was taken to emphasise the importance of the 2026 deadline remaining.

The audience mainly consisted of local authority staff who wanted guidance on managing Public Rights of Way application caseloads in the run up to 2026. The other speakers and myself gave our advice but Defra was not there to comment.

Other speakers in the afternoon session included members of access consulting firms who presented on how to successfully use different forms of electronic communications, including electronic definitive maps and better approaches to planning, recording newly discovered rights of way and dealing with requests for diversions.

The NFU continues to work with Defra, Natural England, the CLA and user groups to ensure that the agricultural sector is well represented when it comes to access and rights of way policy.

More information

The 2015 Deregulation Act included changes to the registration of Public Rights of Way, including the cut-off date of 1 January 2026 for historic claims for paths that existed before 1949. The resulting rush of applications for historic paths to be officially recognised has led to some local councils experiencing application backlogs and hundreds of thousands of pounds of costs to investigate claims.

Click here for more information on the Westminster briefing event.