Last week there was a meeting of the Government’s Stakeholder Working Group on Unrecorded Public Rights of Way. At the meeting Defra announced it was ‘repealing’ the 2026 cut-off for adding ancient rights of way to the Definitive Map.
The cut-off was a provision in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which offered a line in the sand and a degree of certainty for landowners. It would stop further applications for public rights of way based on records before 1949. These claims can have an immense impact on residential, commercial and agricultural land both in terms of its use and its value as well as being hugely stressful and expensive to defend. The provision had not been commenced so Defra’s understanding is that it does not need primary legislation to repeal it and it has told us there will be no consultation.
The CLA has engaged constructively with Defra and other stakeholders for over a decade. The cut-off was part of a package of reforms for which consensus had long been reached that they were to be implemented in full with no cherry picking.
In previous correspondence a few months ago Defra talked of ‘consideration to be given to the deferral of the cut-off date’. There has been no further discussion or negotiation with the working group about this or a repeal. In December we organised a meeting with Defra’s Chair of the group and the project lead to stress the importance of the cut-off to our members and concern at the lack of progress over the last few years which the NFU also attended and fully supported. Again, there was no mention of repeal.
In response to the news, we have written a robust joint letter with the NFU to Lord Benyon and the Secretary of State George Eustice. The letter sets our shock at this Government U-turn and asks for a meeting to discuss our significant concerns and to lay out what we see as workable ways forward.