Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Order Ref: FPS/Q3060/7/1

An obscure title I know but all will become clear.  But be prepared, this is a geeky post of maps, rights-of-way and legal processes!

I'm a little late to this but hoping that this will bring the story to a wider group of people.  

What is a Right of Way anyway?

You've probably saw them on an Ordnance Survey map if you went for a walk over Christmas or the New Year break.  Little green line, sometimes dashed, sometimes dotted.  But what actually is a Right of Way?  Courtesy of "Public rights of way are open to everyone. They can be roads, paths or tracks, and can run through towns, countryside or private property."  Uh-huh.  "You have the right to walk along them. Some rights of way are also open to horse riders, cyclists or motorists".  Ok, I can live with that.  What are the different sorts?

  • footpaths - let you go by foot only
  • bridleways - let you go by foot, horse or bike
  • restricted byways - let you travel by any form of transport that doesn’t have a motor
  • byways open to all traffic - let you travel by any form of transport, including cars (though they’re mainly used by walkers and horse riders)"
The point is that no-one can close or divert (with a few specific instances around the ploughing of land) a Right of Way without going through the proper legal process and satisfying some pretty stringent tests.  

Why does that matter? 

It's one of the things that makes me proud to be British - a legal defined right to use paths, criss-crossing our country: no tickets, permissions, opening hours, nothing - just free access to the countryside (and quite a lot of urban areas too) that no-one can take away.  George Orwell summed this up brilliantly in his essay, 'Thoughts on the Common Toad';

"How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can’t. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, Spring is still Spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it."
The right to access land and enjoy it peacefully is a hugely political issue of course - the best example of this is the Mass Tresspass of Kinder Scout in the Peak District.  

Kinder Scout (image from:
Cool. I like a walk. Sorted.

Almost.  Some people don't like the fact that other people can access land that they own.  Every scrap of the United Kingdom is owned by someone and plenty of those people don't want anyone else to enjoy it.  In a recent Tory proposal lapped up by the Telegraph and other media outlets, it looks like this basic right could be under threat.  

Oh. But all the ones currently used are ok aren't they? 


(This is where it gets really geeky - stay with me).  

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 made it (among other things) a legal duty for Surveying Authorities (usually your local Council) to keep a map (the "Definitive Map") of all Rights of Way in their local area.  This means that everyone can see where the Rights of Way (RoW) are and there's no debate about them.  

One of the brilliant pieces of legislation from the 1997 Labour Government was the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  Commonly known as the "Right to Roam" Act but actually much more than that, this Act "provides for public access on foot to certain types of land, amends the law relating to public rights of way, increases measures for the management and protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and strengthens wildlife enforcement legislation, and provides for better management of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Act is compliant with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, requiring consultation where the rights of the individual may be affected by these measures".  


In practical terms for a casual walker, it has two effects: (1) a right to access Mountain (land over 600 metres), Moorland, Heath, Downland alongside Registered common land.  (My sister was involved in the official mapping process following the passing of the Act and still has a set of 'Mountain', 'Moor', 'Heath' and 'Down' mugs from the office where she was working at the time).  And (2) puts in a place a deadline that if a RoW isn't on the Definitive Map by the year 2026 then it's gone forever.  

Ah, that'll shake things up a bit

You'd have thought so, but in reality progress against that 2026 has been horrendously slow and I imagine it'll be pushed further into the future as we get closer to that time.  

But it has meant that where paths were sort in dispute but everyone had been muddling along things were put into focus a bit more.  

And this is where it gets distinctly Nottingham-relevant.  

The City Council has an excellent (if small) Rights of Way team and the contents of the Definitive Map are integrated into 'Nottingham Insight Mapping' - click through the Layers section to 'Transport and Streets' and then scroll down to 'Public Rights of Way'.  

As a small-ish urban authority there aren't that many official RoWs and the number of applications to 'Modify' the Definitive Maps as recorded here has only ever been a dozen or so.  

But there's one controversial one isn't there?


To understand this bit, you need to know about the Park Estate in Nottingham.  It's a pretty special place in many ways - probably the best history I've found is here but the summary is that it's a private estate with some amazing architecture (including quite a few Watson Fothergill specials) and a fab location just a mile or so from the city centre.  Oh, and owls.  Lots of owls that you can hear hooting at night.  

Would you like to live in a house with a turret?
(image Copyright David Lally and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)
There's a footpath that runs along the Southern part of the Estate, as shown on this map that has been used for many years to cut through from Lenton to the City;

Click for link to Google Maps
Except that the Nottingham Park Estate Limited who run the services of the Estate and maintain the communal facilities like the green spaces and the (amazing) gas lamp system decided that it wasn't a Right of Way and that they would put a gate in (this happened in 2003) and then start regularly locking this gate in 2009 - essentially denying access to local residents over a Right of Way that has existed for nearly 1000 years.  

Nottingham City Council decided this wasn't right and so added the route to the Definitive Map (see, there was a point to all of the above background!) to make its status clear and ensure that the gate was removed or left open.  This was challenged by the Estate and there was an official enquiry and everything, eventually culminating in an official Decision by the Planning Inspector which can be found here.  

Bearing in mind the initial status of the Estate as the deer park for the Castle, the route from the West of the City including Lenton (originally an agricultural village separate from the City itself) makes perfect sense, especially with the Castle at the end of it.  I'm pleased as that all of this is clearly laid out in the Decision, complete with lots of geeky detail and references to some excellent maps too.  

To me it's important to stand up for what might seem like little things - once they're gone it's these kind of rights that we'd miss.  

Okay, thanks for that, good to know

You're welcome.  

(more here, here, here and here if you're interested).  

1 comment:

  1. Part of the ancient trackway into the city and another long running footpath battle along with Nottingham Station and Footpath Number 28