Government U-Turn Sparks Fears Historic Rights of Way Will be Lost

© Ramblers

Access and walking campaigners have condemned a UK Government volte-face on a deadline to record 'lost' footpaths in England, expressing fears that many such routes will be gone for good as a result.

Don't Lose Your Way campaigners in Kent  © Ramblers
Don't Lose Your Way campaigners in Kent
© Ramblers

The Environment Secretary's new decision breaks the Government's undertaking last year to ditch their much-derided 2026 deadline for recording lost paths in England. Thérèse Coffey has now decided not to revoke the deadline altogether, but instead to extend it for just five years.

The revised timescale means that on 1 January 2031, public rights over thousands of paths, which are public highways but not yet recorded as such, or not yet recorded correctly, will be extinguished: in effect these rights of way will then be lost forever.

Jack Cornish, head of paths at the Ramblers, said:

"Our paths are a national treasure, which should be cherished and protected. Last year, when the UK government announced it would scrap the deadline for saving lost paths, it was the right decision. But today's U-turn is another broken promise, coming just weeks after it claimed to be committed to ensuring everyone is within a 15-minute walk of green space.

"The Ramblers currently has more than 600 volunteers working hard to do the research required to save the 41,000 miles of paths that are missing from the map in England. We will continue to submit applications to save these paths, but a deadline of any kind puts unnecessary pressure on under-resourced local authorities.

"We believe there is already a backlog of more than 4,000 applications waiting to be processed and the government has reintroduced a deadline without any plans to address the backlog. Unless the government rethinks today's decision or puts the necessary funding in place to make it possible for paths to be researched, applied for and processed within the time limit they've imposed, historic paths will be lost for future generations."

The Ramblers' Don't Lose Your Way campaign has already identified 49,000 miles of rights of way across England and Wales that don't appear on official maps.

In response, a representative from Defra said:

"We are committed to increasing access to nature and our Environmental Improvement Plan sets out our ambition for every household to be within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water. We are now moving forward with plans to reform existing bureaucratic processes and make it easier and faster to update the legal record of rights of way."

However, Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and a member of the stakeholder working group which has been advising Government on the rights-of-way reforms, is unconvinced:

"This is a short-sighted and obstructive decision by the secretary of state, and will lead to the loss of thousands of public paths" she said.

"At a time when outdoor activity has never been more important for our health and well-being, government decides to reduce those opportunities.

"Users of the path network have already spent years researching the historic evidence needed to claim paths; but there is no way that they can research them all before the deadline, and the local authorities no longer have the resources to process the applications in a timely manner.

"We shall continue to call for revocation of this pernicious deadline, as it flies in the face of winning more and better access in town and country, and of saving our heritage of public paths."

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