Folkard: Having a voice

Posted by Henry Folkard on 02/05/2008

“Unless you have a voice you get nothing.” So said Rick Gibbon, BMC Peak access volunteer, having just spent three hours at his Local Access Forum.

Some aspects of CRoW, such as land dedication, have never approached their full potential for benefiting both the outdoor community and landowners alike. And other aspects need constant attention to make sure that our hard-won rights don’t slip away from us.

There are disturbing reports of agreed access points being stopped up, open access signs masked by Beware of the Dog notices, and fences popping up on open moorland, replete with barbed wire. All these barriers aim to deny by stealth the access we have won by statute. No doubt each one will have been justified by “land management”, but surely there should be some distinction between that and an apparent right to erect feudal barricades. Cumulatively their impact is draconian, and if you’ve encountered any such problems then do let us know.

Local Access Forums have recently spent much time refining the Rights of Way Improvement Plans (ROWIPs). All Rights of Way (something over which the public has a right to pass and re-pass) are the responsibility of the relevant Highways Authority. Different rights apply to footpaths, bridleways, restricted bridleways, byways open to traffic, unclassified roads and concessionary paths. In the Peak alone there are 3005km of such ways, and to get our access rights, BMC access reps need to learn how they all differ. It’s a complex legal area and the definitive text, Rights of Way: a Guide to law and practice, runs to some 900 exciting pages.

A countrywide exercise is currently underway to sort out the proper classification of all these routes and enter them onto something called the Definitive Map. At the same time ROWIPs are being prepared to cover the whole network. These will define priorities: are surfacing and signage more important than creating better links?

How do you accommodate disparate demands by pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists and 4x4 users? An additional part of the exercise is the identification of Lost Ways – paths which once existed but no longer appear on modern OS maps. Unless these are entered on the Definitive Map by 2026 they’ll be deemed by statute to no longer exist. Get in touch with the BMC access team if you know of any that should be recorded.

But how does the BMC explain all this effort to members? It’s always tricky, since feedback on several hours of meetings will certainly not liven up an Area Meeting but unless someone is in on the process, we might not be too pleased with the outcome. And informing events is always better than being informed of them.

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