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The Definitive Map for recording public rights of way

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passed in November 2000. This covers many matters, including providing for a cut-off date (1 January 2026) for the recording on definitive maps of footpaths and bridleways created before 1949: any unrecorded footpaths or bridleways will otherwise be extinguished.

This will extinguish all public footpaths and public bridleways that have been in existence since before 1949 unless they are recorded on the local authority’s Definitive Map and Statement (DMS). There have been indications that the government will introduce regulations to exempt certain unrecorded routes from extinguishment in 2026 (for example if an application has been submitted to the local authority requesting that the route be added to the DMS) but this is yet to happen.

Amending the DMS requires a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO), which anyone can apply for under Schedule 14 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

In order to see what footpaths, byways and bridleways are marked on the DMS, click on this link. Then click on Layers (the icon that looks like three sheets of paper, top right); then on Countryside; and then on Public Rights of Way. You can drag the map and use the + and – buttons (top left) to get the appropriate coverage.

If a right of way is not marked on the DMS and you have reason to believe that it should be, you’re advised in the first instance to contact Stuart Higgins, West Berkshire Council’s Definitive Map Officer, on stuart.higgins@westberks.gov.uk, providing details of the location of the path and any evidence you have to support the claim. He will be able to carry out some initial research of evidence and circumstances to check if there any overriding reason why an application might fail. He can then informally advise the would-be applicant of whether he thinks it is worth proceeding. The applicant does not have to heed his comments and is free to submit an application regardless.

If a DMMO application is submitted, it is up to the local authority to decide if an order should be made. Any formal application requires investigation and a weighing of evidence against legislation and case law so that a formal decision report can be made for West Berkshire Council to consider. The majority of applications which have been made in West Berkshire since 2006 have, for one reason or another, failed this test. If refused, the applicant has the right of appeal to HM Planning Inspectorate (HMPI).

If the local authority agrees that an order should be made it is opened to public objection. Opposed orders go to the Planning Inspectorate for determination. Only when all these stages have been passed can the right of way be added to the DMS.

User groups sometimes publish guidance on the 2026 cut-off date extinguishments. Here is an example (from the Open Spaces Society).

Parish and town councils are obviously well-placed to be able to judge whether or the DMS in their parish is correct but they have no statutory duty to check this and nor are they obliged to make an application if requested to do so by a parishioner. Applications can me made by a parish or town council or by individuals.

For rights of way that came into existence post-1949 and which are not recorded on the DMS, the process is the same as described above. The only difference is that there is no proposed legislation to extinguish in 2026 such public footpaths and bridleways that are then still unrecorded.

People can approach the appropriate parish council or West Berkshire Council if they are interested in new public rights of way being dedicated.

Much of the specific information here is relevant only to West Berkshire: however, the general points will apply for every local authority.

The image at he top of this post is taken from West Berkshire Council’s Definitive Map which uses base mapping supplied by Ordnance Survey.

 

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