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

Permissive options

Adding to the routes available for cycling can also be done via 'permissive' options, as opposed to the statutory processes listed above. They are often considerably faster to implement, but in many cases permission may be withdrawn at any time.

1. Informal permission by landowner 

Cycle use permission can be obtained by word of mouth, but signed, written confirmation is preferable. Some larger landowners may provide such informal access as a result of their access policy, as in the use of stone tracks in freehold Forestry Commission Woodlands. Similarly British Waterways, which has a bye-law prohibiting the use of vehicles on towpaths, has relaxed this restriction for cyclists on around half of its network.

2. Deed of agreement by the landowner

This is a more formal alternative to an informal agreement, and is likely to be between landowner – either the local authority, utility or other private landowner – and a representative body such as a cycling organisation, cycle club or community group. The agreement may well include arrangements for maintenance and management of the trail. The resulting route would not be recognised as a highway in law – it's just a way open for cyclists.

3. Access for cycles as part of a commercial enterprise

This can be found in a number of forms: 

  • Payment of an entry fee to an estate or woodland area, e.g. Drumranlig Castle, Dumfries; 
  • Permit fee for a trail network, e.g. Crown Estate, Swinley, Bracknell; 
  • Free informal use of a trail network with income derived from car park, café, visitor centre, cycle shop or cycle hire facilities, e.g. Penshurst, Kent and Llandegla, Wrexham.

4. Defra / Natural England Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme

This scheme gave landowners grants for agreeing to permissive bridleways for use by cyclists, usually as part of a wider environmental project. EU rules have now stopped revenue funding for any new examples, although current schemes will continue to the end of their 10 year agreements.

5. Paths for Communities (P4C)

In England, a new 2-year funding scheme, Paths for Communities (P4C) will offer between £5,000 and £150,000 out of a £1m per year pot for the creation of new rural paths. Grants will normally provide 75% of the costs, with the remainder from match funding.

Multi-user paths catering for cyclists, equestrians and walkers are intended to be the priority, as are those that will support local businesses through increased tourism. Schemes will need to be developed through co-operation between local communities or user groups and the relevant landowner.

Although the overall pot of money is relatively small, if there is a need to address that missing bridleway link in your own locality, then this scheme could provide the opportunity to resolve it.

Natural England's website provides more details.


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