‘Turnip’ at the top

When to our delight environment minister Richard Benyon announced, in February 2022, that the government would ditch the 2026 deadline (in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) for claiming lost highways, it was obvious why he did this. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had realised that the statutory instruments and regulations needed to implement the 2026 cut-off were hugely complicated, and Defra did not have the resources to sort this out.  The civil servant then in charge, Andy Cartmell, told us: ‘… the legislation required to implement these reform measures is not yet ready to be laid and considerable work remains to complete this work. Defra has therefore decided on a pragmatic approach to taking the package forward.  We have decided to … repeal the 2026 cut-off date.’

Boat Lane which runs to the River Wye opposite Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire, was added to the map in 2021.

A year and a bit later, the Secretary of State for Environment, Thérèse ‘Turnip’ Coffey, says: ‘The Secretary of State has decided to commence the cut-off date provisions, instead of repealing, together with a full five-year extension until 1 January 2031 in recognition of the delays caused by Covid.’

But nothing has changed since Benyon’s announcement—except for the secretary of state.  The complexities remain, and Defra’s workload is ever-increasing with the revocation of nearly 1,800 pieces of EU legislation affecting the department, under the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, plus cost-savings which continually reduce the workforce.  It was Coffey’s decision to make this U-turn, because for her ‘access is a level of detail’ (see earlier blog).

Road leading to the sea at Bacton, Norfolk, not yet recorded on the map.

But worse still, she tries to justify the broken pledge on the ground that she is ‘keen to promote responsible access, protect nature and support people who work and live in the countryside’—the implication being that claiming historic highways is somehow at odds with promoting responsible access and protecting nature.  Coffey shows a complete lack of understanding of what this is about; the routes being claimed are likely already to be public highways but have not been recorded.

Restricted byway at Paston, Norfolk, recorded in 2021.

We understand that Ms Coffey has been told about the complexities of implementing the cut-off but she cannot have understood how labyrinthine they are.  There is a sheaf of exceptions to prevent the extinguishment of rights on certain routes, but these are not clearly defined in the 2000 act.  For instance: what happens to historical paths currently in use, what about unrecorded and under-recorded widths, and how does the law define the ‘urban’ paths which are saved?  There are numerous, very involved problems, and now the stakeholder working group, of which I am a member, is required to help Defra sort out the mess it has made.

But one thing is clear, this volte face by government is due to new people at the top who neither understand nor care about the issues at stake.


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, Defra, parliament, Public paths, riding, walking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to ‘Turnip’ at the top

  1. John Bainbridge says:

    Reblogged this on Country Ways and commented:
    Excellent summary by Kate Ashbrook. Utterly disgusting betrayal by the government.

  2. John Bainbridge says:

    This government must be the worst in recent history.

  3. Sandra says:

    if we cannot get footpaths open that are on the definitive map how can we get those that are not.
    eight years now of promises that footpath 8 Sunningwell will be open

  4. Pete Johnstone says:

    Yes, you are right again. I just hope the Labour’s Environmental manifesto will be up to scratch. We do have a couple of Conservatives who are strong on the environment but they don’t get the top job.

  5. Ivy Fern says:

    The CROW act allowed for the 2026 date to be extended by five years. It did not intend for the scrapping of the date in the first place. The numbers of so called lost footpaths are propaganda. The ramblers map includes land which is MOD land such as Stanford Battle Area. It includes routes through housing estates, peoples gardens and even living rooms, airports, schools, farmyards and business premises. People who understand little about the PROW system are encouraged to make claims which stand no chance whatever of becoming a reality but which can stay in the system for thirty or more years ( longest 50years and still continuing). These claims wreck the lives of ordinary people, cause confrontation and venom between people, waste thousands of pounds of tax payers money and result in no gain to anybody. It really is time that the public were given a clearer picture of the issues involved. It is neither democratic or fair that people do not realise that there is a whole other side to the story. Indeed I am sure that many of them would be horrified if they did.

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