The Definitive Map for recording public rights of way – February 2022 update

Each local authority has a Definitive Map and Statement, which is the record of legally recognized public rights of way (public footpaths, public bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic (BOATs)). See the West Berkshire Council Definitive Map webpage for more information.

It is possible that additional, unrecorded public rights of way may exist. Anyone can apply for a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO) to have suspected unrecorded public rights of way added to the Definitive Map, if supporting evidence can be provided. The Ramblers has a useful guide to what this entails, which you can see here.

in February 2022, the government announced an intention to abolish legislation that would have automatically extinguished old, unrecorded public rights of way on 1 January 2026. This does not change the process for identifying and applying for unrecorded public rights of way to be added to the Definitive Map but just means that there is no longer a tight deadline of 2026 in which to claim them.

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. 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, and an order has been confirmed, can the right of way be added to the DMS.

The Ramblers have a Discovering Lost Ways project to identify possible unrecorded public rights of way, including for West Berkshire. You can have a look at this section of the Ramblers’ website: the organisation has used historical maps to identify nearly 50,000 miles of paths (enough to go round every nook and cranny of Britain’s coastline about seven times) and is considering which ones it feels are the priorities to have recorded.

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 be made by a parish or town council or by individuals.

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 the 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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