Developing new paths for cycling in the countryside

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Do you ride - or want to ride - on a particular path, but can't tell whether you're allowed to do so? Does your favourite bridleway suddenly turn into a footpath and you wish it didn't? Do you want to do something about it? Read on...
Riding off-road
Riding off-road

Claiming an unrecorded right of way


A way that is recorded on the definitive map is protected for existing and future use and it is easier to stop anyone interfering with it. Also, if you've been challenged for using a path (e.g. by a landowner, a 'keep out' sign, or locked gate), if it's not on the map, you may lose your right to ride on it.

There are two basic methods to make a claim. They can be used together and the relevant highway authority will be able to guide you through the process in detail.

1. s53 Wildlife & Countryside Act - historical evidence:

You will need to use the local Public Records Office to find historical evidence that the route should be, say, a bridleway (which means that it's legal to cycle on it).


2. s31 Highways Act Deemed Dedication following 20 years of cycle and/or equestrian use:

Basically, you'll need to compile evidence that the path has enjoyed uninterrupted use by cyclists for (usually) 20 years. Although most authorities tend to accept claims if at least half a dozen witnesses can testify to this, it is best to gather as many testimonies as you can. All relevant landowners have to be notified, a step that might prove complicated and involve Land Registry searches. If you can't find out who the owner is, you could ask the council to put up a notice on the land.


Applying to have the definitive map modified

The first step is to go to the relevant local authority's office to check the existing definitive map to see if the way that interests you is on it and, if it is, what its status is. If it's not there, or you disagree with its recorded status (e.g. it's listed as a footpath, but you think it should be a restricted byway), ask the authority to check.

If you think the map and/or the authority is wrong, and you want to take the matter further, you can make an official claim by applying for a 'definitive map modification order' (DMMO).

The relevant highway authority will be able to guide you through the process in detail and explain what sort of evidence you  need to supply.

When you're happy that you've done everything required of you, you can submit your claim. The authority then has to investigate and apply statutory tests to it. If all goes well, the authority will make the Order and advertise it, giving the public a chance to object. If you think the authority hasn't made the right decision based on the evidence you've supplied, you can appeal against it.

Objections to the Order

Anyone may object (but only on relevant grounds). If there are no objections, then the authority should confirm the Order and record the way.

If there are relevant objections, the matter must be referred to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (or the Welsh Assembly in Wales), although in practice this is dealt with by a Government agency, the Planning Inspectorate, acting on their behalf.

The Inspectorate appoints an inspector, who decides whether to hold a public inquiry, or to ask for written representations. This is usually decided on the basis of the number of objectors; the more objectors, and the more complicated their objections, the more likely that the case will be decided through an inquiry. In either case, the Inspector will visit the site in question.


If the inspector decides on an inquiry, it should be held on a convenient date for everyone and near the trail. You'll be invited to submit proof of evidence and the process, including the timetable, should be properly explained to you.

Objectors and applicants are permitted to employ professional representation and to cross-examine witnesses.

Sometimes, the evidence points towards a right of way with a different status from the one advertised in the Order: for example, a claim submitted by horse riders for a bridleway may find support from cyclists or carriage drivers, indicating that the way ought to be a restricted byway. The inspector can modify the Order, but must then re-advertise it and invite objections. This could make a new inquiry necessary.

The inspector considers the evidence, and makes his decision, after which there is no right to further inquiries or representations. It is, however, possible to challenge the decision through the courts.

If the decision goes in your favour, the authority should automatically make the modification to the definitive map.

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