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Local authorities should do more to allow equestrians to use cycle tracks, a government minister has suggested.

Newbury MP and environment minister Richard Benyon is urging local authorities to make cycle paths more accessible to horse riders.

He said: “Unless there are good and specific reasons not to allow riders to use such routes, local authorities should take steps to accommodate them.

“They should be making the most of their off-road networks. Doing so has been shown to be appreciated by local people and creates a better understanding between users.”

Cyclists are allowed to use bridlepaths, but must give way to equestrians. But the issue of horses using cycle paths is more complex.

A revised 2007 edition of the Highway Code attempted to clarify the rules, but confusion still remains.

Under the code, a cycle lane — a separate lane marked out next to the road — is not suitable for equestrian use.

But a cycle track — a route that’s separate from the road — is OK as long as a “no horses” sign is not displayed.

Despite this, the code advises riders not to take horses on these tracks and it is an offence to do so in Scotland.

The British Horse Society (BHS) welcomed the news.

Access director Mark Weston said: “The BHS has campaigned for shared use for years and the minister’s request that local authorities allow riders to use these routes is most welcome.”

According to Mr Benyon: “Research has shown that conflict on shared routes is actually infrequent.”

H&H is not aware of any past legal cases involving riders using cycle tracks.

This news story was first published in the current issue of Horse & Hound (14 July, 2011)