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

Cycle dedication via statute:

1. Conversion under the 1984 Cycle Tracks Act

This is limited to the conversion of public footpaths only, and is only appropriate if the path is wide enough for cycling. It is sometimes opposed by walkers, who may be reluctant to share the route with cyclists. Also, once a path becomes a cycle track it no longer appears on the definitive map.

The strong possibility of objections to proposals for converting a footpath into a cycle track  - and the fact that this might well lead to a time-consuming public inquiry - make this process unpopular with many highway authorities. However, the Government is currently looking at simplying the bureaucracy involved as part of its 'Red Tape Challenge'.

See our campaigns briefing on public footpaths for more.


2.  Creation

As mentioned above, local authorities can create new rights of way, or they can make a creation agreement with the landowner. When creating a way, the authority should update the definitive map, but even if they don't, the creation order/agreement, is evidence that the way is a public right of way.

a. Creation Order by a highway authority (s26 1980 Highways Act)

By this, the highway authority creates a bridleway or restricted byway and pays  compensation to the landowner. As it’s expensive, it is not commonly used.

b. Creation by agreement (s25 1980 Highways Act)

By this process, a bridleway or restricted byway is created following discussions between the highway authority and a sympathetic landowner, without compensation.


3. Dedication

a. Deemed (or presumed) dedication through 20 years of cycle use (s31 1980 Highways Act)

The landowner is 'presumed' to have dedicated the trail as a right of way on the basis of (usually) 20 years uninterrupted use by the public. Anyone can claim such ways by showing evidence, either documentary (such as photos and documents) or anecdotal (such as witness testimonies) that the way has been used continuously during the required period.

Thanks to s68 of the Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act  2006, cyclists can now make claims based on uncontested cycle use. If successful, this leads to a restricted byway.

b. ‘Express dedication’ as bridleway or carriageway (Common Law)

Campaigners, clubs or individuals negotiate the route and consequent compensation with sympathetic landowners. Once dedicated, the route becomes a highway, but may not necessarily be later adopted for maintenance by the highway authority. This system has resulted in some 80 new bridleways in the Mendips negotiated by the Trails Trust.

c. Dedication by the landowner (s16 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW)

A landowner can dedicate a path or area for cyclists through this provision, but to date no such dedication has been made. Any such dedicated path or area would not become a highway and therefore would not be maintainable by the highway authority.

d. Dedication by a Parish Council (s30 1980 Highways Act)

This creates a bridleway or restricted byway by agreement with the landowner. It is rarely, if ever, used.


3. Recording under s53 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act

This is instigated when a highway authority becomes aware of evidence that a definitive route for cyclists may exist and should be on the definitive map. Evidence is typically based on user testimonies, enclosure awards, tithe maps, railway and estate maps and Finance Act maps, amongst others. The process is, however, very bureaucratic (see below), and with a typical output of around five Orders per authority per year, backlogs of 10 years are not uncommon.


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