The government’s plan to close the legal loophole that allowed 4x4s and motorbikes to use unclassified public rights of way because they were once used by horse-drawn vehicles has been welcomed by the BHS but has met with criticism in some quarters.
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) 2000, local authorities have to reclassify roads used as public paths (RUPPs). At present, vehicular rights on RUPPs are not clear. Although they can be re-classified as footpaths and bridleways, if they can be proven to have been used by horses and carts at one time, they can be classed as byways open to all traffic (BOATs). Approximately 7,000km of RUPPs are still open to reclassification.
Last Friday, DEFRA announced plans to establish as soon as possible the category of restricted byway as a replacement to BOAT, meaning claims for vehicular rights based on historical usage will no longer be allowed. This will apply both to RUPPs and to the as yet unclassified byways or “lost routes” that are being added to the definitive rights of way map.
The BHS has welcomed the news, having previously been criticised for standing up for motorbike and quad riders and 4×4 drivers.
The society’s chief executive, Graham Cory, says: “The government’s decision will increase safety for riders and that is clearly a good thing — the majority of riders will be very happy.”
But many see the announcement as coming too late. Applications already submitted will continue to be processed as before and the new law will not be retrospective.
Chris Binnie is chairman of the South Somerset Bridleways Association. In his area — which covers Exmoor — there are very few BOATs but many RUPPs, most of which are used by 4X4s and motorbikes.
“In Somerset there are more than 100 applications already received to upgrade RUPPs and [unclassified] byways to BOATS,” he says. “ [Even if the government] provides a one-year limitation on further applications it would still be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The applications are already in.”