Defra’s double standards

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) wants it both ways.

It is more than 12 months since the government agreed to scrap the 2026 deadline for recording historic paths in England—a hugely welcome announcement.  However, that needs legislation, and path-user groups have been pressing environment ministers to get on with it.  The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill provides an opportunity. We suggested this and were told that it was probably too short notice to place amendments there.

Boat Lane on the north bank of the River Wye in Herefordshire, added to the definitive map in 2022 thanks to the efforts of Owen Morgan and others. The claim was based on historical evidence. Paths such as these could not be claimed in future if the 2026 guillotine is implemented.

But it was not too short notice to table amendments which defer the review of the access maps under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 for another eight years, and absolve Natural England of any reviews thereafter.  Defra has submitted these amendments at the end of the bill’s passage through parliament.

The access maps, which became conclusive in 2004 and 2005, should (by section 10 of the 2000 act) have been reviewed in 2014 and 2015, but ministers introduced two sets of regulations to defer this, so now the dates are 2024 and 2025.  The law does not allow any further extension. Instead of doing the review, ministers propose (without consultation) that the law be changed. 

Access land at Shirburn Hill, Oxfordshire

If these amendments are passed, the first review need not be carried before the end of 2030, ie more than 25 years after the conclusive maps were published. Thereafter, Natural England is not required to carry out further reviews. While we had accepted that more time was needed, we never envisaged a delay of eight years. There are many additions to be made to the maps, for instance the commons which the Open Spaces Society is re-registering, and we also want the inclusion of more downland which was wrongly omitted first time round. Public access needs to be extended, not blocked.

1.7 hectares at Berkhamsted, which the Open Spaces Society re-registered as common land in 2020. It ought to be added to the access map.

And while the 2026 paths-guillotine remains on the statute book, it is at risk of being commenced.  On 9 March, environment minister Trudy Harrison replied to a parliamentary question from Tim Loughton (Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham) that ‘the 2006 cut-off date is currently under review’—which sounds ominous.

So it could be bad news for paths and for freedom to roam. We shall battle on.


About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, campaigns, Natural England, Open country, Public paths and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Defra’s double standards

  1. julian Korn says:

    Good morning Kate,

    Although this is not , strictly speaking, relevant to your report above ,as you mention access land I was wondering whether there have been developments since you wrote about the Grays Lane Banks access land in August 2020 or are things much the same?
    I frequently pass the locked gate and invariably ponder if there will ever come a day when I’ll be able to walk the Banks.
    In fact not long ago the owner emerged behind me from his second entrance, in running gear ,and I briefly (very) thought I should engage with him about it as I stood aside to let him pass but then decided that it would be a waste of time particularly as he failed to respond to my cheery ‘Good Morning’ (ignoring me completely ).

    • Dear Julian, thanks for getting in touch. You are right, no progress and it’s really sad that we can’t get on there legally, or even physically now. I used to climb the gate but I think it’s gone. It is something we really should pursue but the law is unhelpful.

  2. John Bainbridge says:

    This is absolutely appalling. I hope the campaign groups are even now having discussions with the opposition parties?

  3. Walking Away says:

    Absolutely appalled by this government’s duplicity. By most of their collective behaviours actually.

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