Council leads the way to improve off-road access *H&H Plus*

  • The improvement plan will seek to connect existing routes and improve crossing points on busy roads

    A plan to enhance riders’ off-road access across a county has been welcomed — raising hopes that other councils will make similar provisions for equestrians in the future.

    Buckinghamshire County Council announced its draft rights of way improvement plan (ROWIP) 2020-2030 based on views from the public and organisations on what should be prioritised.

    The ROWIP acknowledged riders can only use some types of public rights of way and stated these routes “don’t join up well”, forcing riders to use or cross busy roads. The plan proposes addressing these issues by including connecting routes, installing better gates (where funding allows) and creating improved crossing points.

    The council’s head of planning and environment David Sutherland told H&H: “Buckinghamshire County Council recognises the important place horse riding has in rural life and the rural economy, and its role in helping people explore and enjoy the Bucks countryside.


    “The ROWIP seeks to ensure the county’s network of bridleways and byways is not only well maintained but, where possible, enhanced. This includes the installation of horse-friendly gates, and features such as marked crossing points and paths on verges to ensure riders are kept safe from busy traffic. There are also planned projects such as the Ridgeway riding route that will mean significant additions to the bridleway network.”

    Mark Weston, director of access at the British Horse Society, told H&H the society worked with the council on the plan.

    “Our local access officers across the country are continually making representations to councils for better bridleway and restricted byway provision for equestrians, so they are not forced to use the road network,” he said.

    “It is good the council has taken on board the comments of our local access officer and has recognised the lack of network available to equestrians and the need to address this and join up the routes.”

    Mr Weston added that as riders are recognised by the government as vulnerable road users and are included in active travel, it is hoped other councils will “provide accordingly” for equestrians in their plans.

    “The BHS will continue to make representations for equestrians to be provided for in these plans and we would ask all equestrians to respond to such consultations. Councils give public notice of such plans and set out clearly a timetable for representations,” he said.

    “Riders should contact their local BHS access group if they have any queries or concerns regarding local bridleways.”

    Rider Natalie White, who was injured by a gate on a bridleway in Buckinghamshire in January, which has since been repaired, told H&H while the ROWIP sounds “well intentioned”, there is a lot of work to be done.

    “The council has made some good points but I don’t think they have the time, resources or funding to do it. I have complained about the surface of a bridleway every winter for the past five years and nothing gets done,” she said.

    “Things get categorised by urgency, so me hurting myself on a gate was top of the list — whereas a muddy path that floods every year is going to be low priority. There are always going to be important things overshadowing that. It’s encouraging they’re thinking about riders more, but whether it actually comes to doing anything is key.”

    A spokesman for Buckinghamshire County Council told H&H reported surface issues are inspected and reviewed on a “case by case” basis.

    “Routes that have muddy surfaces over the winter would not necessarily require surface improvement works. We would assess the problem and consider what works are required depending on the level of use of a route and the severity of the issue,” said the spokesman.

    The public has until 24 December to provide the council feedback in an online survey about the ROWIP. Visit: surveymonkey.co.uk/r/BucksRoWIP

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