Natural England’s Stakeholder Working Group has now unanimously recommended a package of legal and procedural improvements in relation to unrecorded public rights of way.
Its report, Stepping Forward was published by Natural England on 22nd March 2010.
The Group, which was independently chaired, brought together representatives of the key stakeholder interests in this subject - users, land managers and local authorities. Through a series of meetings held from late 2008 to early 2010, the Group identified 32 strategic proposals for reform.
These aim to:
deliver greater certainty about where pre‐1949 public rights of way exist and do not exist, protecting useful or potentially useful rights from extinguishment;
incentivise good quality applications, promote early sharing of information, and limit the scope for unreasonable objections;
improve procedures where things can be done more effectively, or unnecessary steps can be removed;
make the system easier for all to understand;
make procedures more flexible, so that a light‐touch administration is possible where appropriate and there can be early negotiated solutions to potential conflicts with modern land use;
encourage the poorest performing authorities to rise to the standards of the best performing authorities; and
encourage consideration of the scope to integrate the management and administration of the highways network.
The Group’s Report emphasises that this is a cohesive and balanced package of recommendations, and that the consensus established around them is dependent on all of them being implemented in full.
In a letter to Ministers: (130kb) dated 5th March 2010, our Chair Poul Christensen says that Natural England commends the Report unreservedly to Government, and urges it to:
commission Defra officials to work up quickly the detailed legal changes needed to give effect to the Group’s recommendations, and
consult widely with stakeholders to ensure that such changes fully reflect their needs for an improved system.