Hampshire County Council

Executive Member - Recreation and Heritage

15 November 2007

Draft Hampshire County Council Policy Regarding the Use and Management of Motor Vehicles on Rights of Way and Unsurfaced Roads in the Countryside

Report of the Director of Recreation and Heritage and the Director of Environment.

Item 1

Contact: Andrew Smith, ext 6003 email: andrew.t.smith@hants.gov.uk

1. Summary

1.1 This report sets out a draft policy explaining the action that Hampshire County Council will take in response to the issues that arise through the use of motor vehicles on public rights of way and unsurfaced roads in the countryside. It is intended to be a clear and reasonable approach to a controversial subject but one which respects the rights of people to the quiet and safe enjoyment of the countryside. The draft policy has been developed with the help of the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum. The draft policy is intended to elaborate and explain, rather than replace, the 1998 statement made by the then Recreation and Heritage Committee which declared its `total opposition to the use of green lanes by motor vehicles for recreational purposes'. The Policy will require endorsement by both the Executive Member for Recreation and Heritage and the Executive Member for the Environment.

2. Recommendation

2.1 That the Executive Member for Recreation and Heritage approves the draft policy regarding the use and management of motor vehicles on rights of way and unsurfaced roads in the countryside. Councillor Kendal, Executive Member for Environment has been consulted and supports the proposed policy.

3. Context

3.1 The use of countryside paths and tracks by motor vehicles is an emotive subject. Some people feel strongly about their historic rights of access, whilst others object strongly to such use on the grounds of its impact. As the County Council has the legal duty to record and maintain these routes, it is important for all concerned to know what to expect from the County Council when problems arise and for the County Council to act fairly and consistently. Byways Open to All Traffic are the only part of the rights of way network that can be used by the public in or on a motor vehicle. There are 374 of these routes, totalling 179 miles (approximately. 6% of the 3,000 miles of rights of way in Hampshire). In addition, motor vehicles may use the road network and this Policy is concerned with the 305 miles of unsurfaced road in Hampshire. Although the term `green lane' is in common use to describe routes of either type, it has no legal definition and so has not been used here.

4. The Policy in Summary

4.1 The County Council recognises the rights that motor vehicle users have to access parts of the rights of way and unsurfaced road network.

4.2 The County Council does not encourage this activity but acknowledges that responsible use on some routes can be sustained.

4.3 The County Council will take action to limit or prevent access by motor vehicles if this use is damaging to the route or local environment, or conflicts with the reasonable interests of walkers, riders, cyclists or carriage drivers. The County Council has a Policy on the use of Traffic Regulation Orders on rights of way.

4.4 The County Council will prioritise repair and maintenance to benefit non-motorised users on Byways Open to All Traffic. Repair work on Unclassified Roads will be undertaken to a standard which is commensurate with the level and type of public use.

4.5 The County Council will endeavour to ensure that surface damage caused by private use of the route (e.g. by agricultural or forestry vehicles) is made good by those responsible.

4.6 The County Council will work to encourage responsible behaviour by all countryside users and a better understanding of the network

4.7 The County Council has a legal duty to record all public rights of way on the Definitive Map. Investigating applications to modify the map can be controversial and may lead to expensive Public Inquiries. The Council welcomes discussion with interested parties at an early stage in the Inquiry process to agree common ground and minimise expense.

4.8 The County Council is opposed to the unlawful use of motor vehicles on rights of way and unsurfaced roads, and will work with the Police and others to prevent such access and to take action against offenders.

5. Explanation of Terms

5.1 Motor Vehicles: Mechanically propelled vehicles, including cars, 4x4s, motorcycles, quadbikes, mini-motorbikes and mini motor scooters .

5.2 (Public) Rights of Way: Public footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic (`BOAT's). BOATs are the only rights of way (often without a sealed surface) which motor vehicles have a legal right to use, although they are mainly used by walkers, riders, cyclists and carriage drivers.

5.3 Unsurfaced Roads: In this context, this refers to Unclassified County Road (UCRs) without a sealed surface and where motor vehicular rights are known or presumed to exist. UCRs are highways recorded by the County Council as maintainable at public expense and believed by highway managers to be public carriage roads.

5.4 Traffic Regulation Order: An order to restrict, prohibit, or regulate the use of roads (including rights of way) by traffic (which can include cyclists, horse riders and walkers).

5.5 Private Use: Use of a route by farmers, landowners or those who hold private rights of access to property.

5.6 Definitive Map: The legal record of public rights of way. Hampshire County Council has a legal duty to keep this map under continuous review and to investigate applications (`claims') to modify it under section 53(5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

6. Introduction

6.1 Hampshire County Council (`the Council'), as both the Highway and Surveying Authority for the County, has responsibilities for the recording, management and protection of the highway network. This network includes public rights of way (public footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic) as well as the public road network. As part of the management of the road network the Council has the responsibility for Unclassified County Roads (`UCRs') which are minor, sometimes unsurfaced, roads and tracks. In the context of this Policy, `unsurfaced roads' refers to UCRs without a sealed surface and where motor vehicular rights are known or presumed to exist.

6.2 In March 1998, at a meeting of the then Recreation and Heritage Committee, the Council resolved to `declare its total opposition to the use of green lanes by motorised vehicles for recreational purposes'. The term `green lane' was not defined and has no legal meaning. This statement has not been changed or clarified since this time and it is difficult to demonstrate how it has influenced the work of the Council. However, the statement did set a clear expectation that the Council will not work to promote the interests of people who wish to drive on non-tarmac routes in the countryside. On many occasions this statement has been perceived to conflict with the Council's statutory duties as the surveying authority to ensure that all rights are legally and accurately recorded. A clear policy is needed therefore to help clarify the Council's roles and responsibilities and to ensure people understand how this will affect the work of the Council in practice.

6.3 It is important at the outset to recognise the difference between lawful and unlawful use. Whilst the Policy will be principally concerned with how the Council manages lawful motor vehicle use, it is important to record the Council's intention, in conjunction with the Police and others, to see strong action taken in response to unlawful use.

6.4 As with all types of public access, it is the Council's duty to ensure that vehicular rights are correctly recorded and that routes are maintained to a standard which meets the actual level and type of public use. Problems can occur when the use of motor vehicles on these routes becomes a risk to other users, damages to the route or the environment, or simply detracts from people's enjoyment of the area. Sometimes it is only people's perceptions that these problems are occurring, or have the potential to occur, however, these views can be strongly and widely held.

6.5 The Policy is intended to set out the issues relevant to the management of motor vehicles on rights of way and unsurfaced roads in the countryside and to guide the Council in managing these routes and responding to problems that arise. The Policy has been developed in partnership with the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum (`the Forum'), the independent statutory body which provides advice to the Council and other organisations on the management of access to the countryside. The policy has benefited from the views of the Forum and advice of other organisations and individuals with a good knowledge and strong interest in this subject.

7. The Need for a Policy

7.1 Many people enjoy countryside paths on foot, horse, bike or carriage for quiet enjoyment and exercise. Motor vehicles are viewed by many people as detracting from, or totally spoiling, this experience. There are examples of motor vehicles causing significant damage to some routes, occasionally to the extent that the route becomes unusable for other users. Damage can also be caused to the local environment, both to the landscape and the local biodiversity. Problems of this nature tend to attract a great deal of attention and publicity which can sometimes suggest the problem is greater than it is. On occasions damage to a route is actually a consequence of private use (e.g. by farmers or landowners) rather than use of the route as a public right of way. It is important therefore to have a clear policy that responds to these concerns in a measured and appropriate way.

7.2 Accessing the countryside by vehicle is an historic right and for many people, particularly the elderly or people with disabilities, it is one way that they can access and enjoy the county's countryside. Motor vehicular use can also help to keep paths open for all users by keeping back invasive side growth and seasonal vegetation growing from the surface. Drainage and surface improvements which sustain motor vehicular access sometimes provide routes which are easily accessible by more people, for example people who use wheelchairs or who have children in pushchairs.

· The County Council recognises the rights that motor vehicle users have to access parts of the rights of way and unsurfaced road network.

· The Council does not encourage this activity but acknowledges that responsible use on some routes can be sustained.

8. Rights

8.1 The Council recognises, and will continue to work with, national organisations involved in the use and/or protection of the BOAT and unsurfaced road network. The independent advice and guidance of the Countryside Access Forums for Hampshire and for the New Forest are particularly valued in helping the Council to manage this difficult issue. Offers of practical voluntary help can be of great benefit to the network. This work helps to demonstrate that the intentions of groups representing vehicular users is to respect the network and that these users are willing to invest their resources in helping to maintain and protect the network. Where such offers of help are in accordance with the Council's priorities and protocols they will be gratefully accepted.

· The County Council will take action to limit or prevent access by motor vehicles if this use is damaging to the route or local environment, or conflicts with the reasonable interests of walkers, riders, cyclists or carriage drivers. The Council has a Policy on the use of Traffic Regulation Orders on public rights of way.

9. Environmental Conflict and conflicts with other users

9.1 Any form of use of the rights of way and unsurfaced road network, whether public or private, motorised or non-motorised, can have a detrimental impact on the environment. The Council will take steps including, if necessary, the implementation of Traffic Regulation Orders (`TROs'), to limit or prohibit traffic if there is significant damage, or risk of significant damage, to the local environment - whether this be in terms of damage to path surface, habitats or the landscape, or noise and pollution. The possible steps that could be taken and the decision-making process to be followed are described in the Council's 2006 policy for the Use of Traffic Regulation Orders on Public Rights of Way which promotes the use of temporary or seasonal TROs or voluntary restraints where these would be sufficient to overcome the problem on the rights of way network. The criteria for making a TRO are contained within the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.

9.2 The Council will investigate alleged conflict between motorised and non-motorised users of a BOAT or unsurfaced road. If necessary, measures will be taken to protect the safety and enjoyment of non-motorised users using a series of possible actions which are set out in the Policy for the Use of Traffic Regulation Orders on Public Rights of Way. The implementation of a TRO prohibiting some or all motorised traffic will only be considered if other measures have been tried or are considered to be inappropriate.

· The County Council will prioritise repair and maintenance to benefit non-motorised users on Byways Open to All Traffic. Repair work on Unclassified Roads will be undertaken to a standard which is commensurate with the level and type of public use.

· The County Council will endeavour to ensure that surface damage caused by private use of the route (eg by agricultural or forestry vehicles) is made good by those responsible.

10. Maintenance

10.1 The Council recognises its duty to maintain those routes that are publicly maintainable to a standard which is commensurate with the actual level and type of public use.

10.2 To do so the Council will take reasonable action to restore those BOATs and unsurfaced roads which are so out of repair as to be unsuitable for use by the public. Priority will be given to routes which, if restored, would meet a need identified in the Countryside Access Plan for the area, or where the problem constitutes a public safety risk. As a part of any project to repair a BOAT or unsurfaced road requiring capital expenditure, consideration will be given to the implementation of a TRO in order to protect the work undertaken.

10.3 In addition to being public rights of way, many routes also carry private use, for example by farmers, landowners or as access to nearby properties. This can also cause damage to surfaces, particularly since the weight of farm and forestry vehicles has increased substantially over recent decades. If surface damage is considered to be through private use then the Council will endeavour to ensure that those responsible make good the damage caused.

11. Education

11.1 In order to reduce misconceptions and conflict the Council will :

· The County Council has a legal duty to record all public rights of way on the Definitive Map. Investigating applications to modify the map can be controversial and may lead to expensive Public Inquiries. The Council welcomes discussion with interested parties at an early stage in the Inquiry process to agree common ground and minimise expense.

12. Recording Vehicular Rights

12.1 The Council as the surveying authority for the County has a statutory responsibility to keep the Definitive Map under continuous review and to investigate any applications made to modify the Map under section 53(5) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Council has an existing Policy for determining such applications, which sets out the criteria for assessing the order in which applications are investigated.

12.2 In relation to all applications, irrespective of the possible outcome, the Council will act in a fair and impartial way and in accordance with the evidence. The Council recognises, however, that many people involved in the applications process will not be familiar with it, or understand the relevance of the historical or user evidence. In light of this, the Council will offer to enter a dialogue with and, if it will be helpful, meet with those landowners whose land is the subject of an application, and their agents or representatives, early in the process in order discuss both the process and the evidence.

12.3 When an Order is made to modify the Definitive Map on the basis of the discovery of evidence, objections may be submitted to the Order. The strength of feeling can escalate when the Order, if confirmed, would have the effect of recording vehicular rights over a route where such rights have not been previously recorded. Where there are outstanding objections to an Order, it is not unusual for there to be a Public Inquiry at which an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State will receive evidence and make a recommendation as to whether the Order should be confirmed.

12.4 The Council welcomes the opportunity to prepare for Inquiries with all the interested parties. Wherever possible, the Council will work with all parties to agree the common ground in advance of the Inquiry and to seek to establish how the parties' cases are to be presented at the Inquiry. By doing so the intention is to reduce the amount of Inquiry time required to hear the evidence, to reduce unnecessary expense for all parties and to ensure that the Inspector can focus on the salient evidence.

12.5 Early exchange of proofs of evidence by all parties ahead of an Inquiry will be supported and encouraged by the Council.

· The County Council is opposed to the unlawful use of motor vehicles on rights of way and unsurfaced roads, and will work with the Police and others to prevent such access and to take action against offenders.

UNLAWFUL USE

13.1 The Council is opposed to the use of motor vehicles on rights of way and unsurfaced roads where there is no lawful authority for their use. Where necessary, the Council will take action to prevent such use provided this does not interfere with lawful private or public access.

13.2 The Council supports the Police in exercising their powers with respect to unlawful use of motor vehicles in a public place and will encourage action to be taken. This will include efforts at a County level to develop policies and implement initiatives to deter such activities and to encourage action to be taken against perpetrators. Council officers will also work with the Police at a local level to resolve specific problems. Where possible, Council officers will collate the relevant evidence for use in possible legal action. The Council will also work with others to deter unlawful use, including landowners, the wider local community and those local groups representing users of motor vehicles on the rights of way and unsurfaced road network.

13.3 The Council will evaluate the effectiveness of initiatives to address this problem undertaken elsewhere (e.g. Sussex Pathwatch) with a view to implementing successful schemes in Hampshire.

14. Legal implications

14.1 The draft policy is in accordance with the County Council's statutory responsibilities.

15. Financial Implications

15.1 The County Council has responsibilities for the maintenance and management of the rights of way and minor road network. Whilst this draft policy may help prioritise how funding is allocated it ought not to lead to greater pressure on these resources.

16. Impact Assessment

16.1 The draft policy is intended to respect the rights of all groups however it does give precedence to the quiet and safe enjoyment of the countryside and the protection of the environment over the use of motor vehicles where these are in conflict.

17. Conclusion

17.1 The draft policy has received broad support from members of the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum and is intended as a fair and measured response to a difficult and high profile issue.

LINK TO CORPORATE STRATEGY

Hampshire safer and more secure for all _

Maximising well-being _

Enhancing our quality of place _

Section 100 D-Local Government Act 1972-background documents.

The following documents discuss facts or matters on which this report, or an important part of it is based and have been relied upon to a material extent in the preparation of this report.

NB: the list excludes.

1. Published works

HCC Policy for the Management of Traffic on Hampshire's Public Rights of Way Network and the Use of Traffic Regulation Orders - May 2006.