From the point of view of a mountain biker the current RoW situation in England and Wales is a complete mess, with no consistency or logic behind current designations. The current network of legal RoWs for mountainbikers is inadequate and restrictive in almost all areas. Riding bikes is good, so more places to ride would be a good thing, right?
The cheapest and easiest way of fixing this problem is simply to allow people to ride bikes on footpaths without requiring any alteration to those paths or any changes to priorities, etc.
I would expect any other method of addressing this issue to fall short because of the complexities involved. There would be a lack of consistency of application across different authorities, due to differences in interpretation of any guidelines set out, and due to lobbying from established outside interests. Authorities would tend to misinterpret the real needs and desires of mountainbikers, which are minimal - we don't need surfaced cyclepaths, or gates instead of stiles, or good, well-maintained hardpack surfaces, indeed we actively don't want those things: that's why many of us already ride footpaths "illegally" instead of sticking to frequently tedious resurfaced motorway bridleways. Any attempt to reclassify some but not all footpaths for mountain bike use would most likely result in a network of trails little different from what we already have today. And most riders would in that case just carry on breaking the law and riding footpaths, so we'd be back to square one, but millions of pounds out of pocket.
So: if we agree that the current situation is suboptimal and needs changing, and we agree that especially at this time of limited resources the cheapest viable option is probably the most desirable, the best thing to do is just let us ride footpaths.
cyclists are just ramblers with wheels
I resent that assertion, but I would be willing to pretend to get access to footpaths. Now, where did I put my red socks?