The strategy for managing 4x4 and trail bike use on unsurfaced Peak District National Park tracks is to be updated to help prevent routes being damaged.
We asked the Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) if this might mean fewer 4x4s in future. Spokesperson John Fern told us:
'The role of a National Park Authority is not to influence the number of visitors (whether walkers, cyclists, climbers or 4x4s) but to manage the people who do come effectively. Obviously I can't pre-judge precisely what the revised strategy will change but it will be designed to make this management process quicker and to look at tougher management restrictions.'
Although 4x4 use is often called 'off-roading' many unsurfaced countryside tracks in the National Park are legally classified as roads called Byways Open to All Traffic which can be used by 4x4s and trail bikes. But though vehicles may be permitted on these routes they may still cause significant damage through erosion, noise pollution and conflicts with other trail users. The new policy will aim to speed up the process of resolving these problems.
'The revised strategy will look at tougher management restrictions'
Members of the PDNPA's audit, resources and performance committee backed the concerns of local residents and interest groups about the impact being caused by 4x4s and trail bikes on the tranquillity of the National Park and on the condition of unsurfaced routes, which can make it difficult for walkers, cyclists and horse riders to use them.
They agreed to work with police officers on preparing a revised strategy and policy to be considered by the full authority on 2 December. In the meantime meetings are to be called with senior police officers and councillors from the highways authorities that cover the National Park to build on existing successful partnership work to tackle the issue and see if more can be done.
A new consultative group involving these organisations, user groups and interest groups will meet in early September to look at practical measures that can be done to resolve problems. Members of the PDNPA will also look at future budgets to see if more money can be found for this area of work to increase the pace of implementing the updated strategy once it is agreed in December.
Christopher Pennell, chair of the audit, performance and resources committee, said:
'It is good that people are so passionate about the National Park's beautiful landscape and are concerned about issues like this. This meeting was an opportunity to reflect on the real progress that has been made to manage 4x4 and trail bike use on unsurfaced routes. But it was also a time to hear and respond to the concerns expressed by people on both sides of the argument who want the momentum increasing, which is why we are recommending the strategy is updated and we look at finding ways of committing more money to this area of work at a time when the authority is facing budget cuts.'
'No single group or authority can resolve this issue on their own. That is why we will continue to work in partnership with the police, local authorities, the Local Access Forum, 4x4 and trail bike user groups and a variety of recreation user groups, including horse riders, walkers and cyclists on these complicated issues.'
Members of the committee heard from eight public speakers who objected to the damage being done to the countryside by 4x4s and trail bikes, and two who argued the problems would only be solved by working with motor vehicle user groups.
A review of the existing strategy to manage motor vehicle use on unsurfaced routes found the authority had:
- Assessed 180 routes and identified 24 as priority routes where action was needed.
- Approved one Traffic Regulation Order banning traffic from a route. Derbyshire County Council has carried out public consultations on introducing three other Traffic Regulation Orders as a result of the strategy.
- Installed logging equipment to monitor use of routes to ensure decisions were based on facts and stand up to legal scrutiny if a decision is challenged in court.
- Carried out a programme of repairs and maintenance, installed signs and carried out safety improvements at a wide range of sites in partnership with Derbyshire County Council and recreation user groups.
- Carried out an enforcement and educational campaign called Operation Blackbrook, which was led by the police with the support of PDNPA rangers.
- Improved communications about the issue to user groups and the public through a dedicated section on the authority website and leaflets handed out to 4x4 and trail bike users and the public.
- Run regular public meetings and operational liaison meetings.
- Increased work to clarify the legal status of unsurfaced routes where it is either not known if vehicles have legal rights to use them or where there is a legal challenge over whether those rights exist. This work is being carried out by Derbyshire County Council's legal team, as the highway authority.
Further information on the issue of use of unsurfaced routes by 4x4s and trail bikes can be found at the PDNPA website.