North Downs Way Sign Lost Wayfind Hannah Stock

Government Changes Policy on Rights of Way: The Deadline is Back

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Having previously announced that the 2026 deadline for registering historic rights of way would be removed, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has taken an about turn and decided that there will be a deadline – in 2031.

By way of explanation, DEFRA has said:

  • The government will retain the cut-off date for registering historic rights of way, reflecting the original intention of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW). This will provide certainty for users, landowners and local authorities, as well as promote responsible access, protect nature and support people who work and live in the countryside.
  • Given delays caused by Covid-19, the Secretary of State has decided to use existing powers in CROW to extend this deadline by five years from 1 January 2026 to 1 January 2031.
  • Reforms to how historic rights of way are recorded will improve processes for all parties and improve access to nature. These reforms will streamline processes for recording rights of way with landowners, local authorities and users benefitting from a faster, more cost effective, less confrontational and less bureaucratic process.
  • Through rights of way reform, local authorities will have powers to reject weakly evidenced applications, ignore irrelevant objections and agree appropriate modifications directly with landowners. Local authorities will also have powers to correct obvious administrative errors on the definitive map via a significantly shortened process.

This seems somewhat disingenuous – there were lengthy delays on rights of way applications long before Covid. An extra five years isn’t going to change that. As yet, it’s unclear what the proposed reforms to processing rights of way applications are, but we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this. A shortened process would surely be welcome – if it’s not stacked against the public’s attempts to secure access.

Does lichen growth count towards proving historic-ness?

We are committed to increasing access to nature and our Environmental Improvement Plan sets out our ambition for every household to be within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water.

We are now moving forward with plans to reform existing bureaucratic processes and make it easier and faster to update the legal record of rights of way.

DEFRA spokesperson

Landowners’ lobby group the Country Land and Business Association (CLA – the membership organisation for owners of land, property and businesses in rural England and Wales) is taking credit for this decision, saying it has been lobbying intensively:

Local councils have found themselves swamped by applications to add historic rights of way to the definitive map. There are already huge backlogs to deal with claims that have been submitted. The decision by the Secretary of State to implement the cut-off date brings a degree of certainty and will start to ease the burden faced by under-resourced local councils.

The current process brings campaigners and landowners against one another when in reality both share the desire to enjoy the countryside and protect our wildlife. We are eager to work in collaboration with Defra and campaigning groups to ensure people can continue to responsibly experience the benefits of the countryside in decades to come. The CLA is pleased that the Secretary of State has decided to take forward its suggestion to implement the cut-off with a revised date of 2031.


Hmm… councils are swamped by applications (to correct historic errors and omissions), so let’s make a deadline so that anyone at the back of the queue gets cut off or timed out? That sounds… unreasonable?

Sophie Gordon, Cycling UK’s off-road campaigns officer said:

“The UK government’s u-turn on promises to cancel the 2026 deadline for recording lost rights of way is another kick in the teeth for those who want fair and equal access to the countryside.  

“Pushing back the deadline to 2031 isn’t just making the issues of access a future Government’s problem. It also likely means thousands of historic routes will be lost, putting further limitations on how we explore these wild isles of ours.

“It’s the latest in a series of broken promises and delays, which shows the need for access reform in England. Cycling UK is going to do its utmost to ensure this government keeps its promises and the countryside is made accessible for everyone.”

Here’s what we think it should look like.” 

Since the government announced the original plan to rescind the deadline, it’s understood that no actual progress had been made on this front. The existing legislation allows for the deadline to be moved from 2026 to 2031 without further legislation, meaning this latest move is something of a default setting. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the legislative horizon, with the Levelling Up And Regeneration Bill due before the House of Lords soon after Easter. There is currently an amendment lodged which would repeal the deadlines set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

471_ After Clause 214, insert the following new Clause- “

Extinguishment of unrecorded rights of way In the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the following sections are repealed-
(a) section 53 (Extinguishment of unrecorded rights of way);
(b) section 54 (Excepted highways and rights of way);
(c) section 55 (Bridleway rights over ways shown as bridleways);
(d) section 56 (Cut-off date for extinguishment etc).”

Member’s explanatory statement: This new Clause would enact a Government commitment to repeal the deadline for recording unrecorded rights of way.

The amendment has been brought forward by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Baroness Scott of Needham Market and Lord Berkeley. Click the links for their contact details if you want to show them your support for their amendment. And for those who want to geek out, there are a number of other amendments in there about enhanced access to the countryside that you might want to get behind.

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Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

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Home Forums Government Changes Policy on Rights of Way: The Deadline is Back

Viewing 10 posts - 1 through 10 (of 10 total)
  • Government Changes Policy on Rights of Way: The Deadline is Back
  • 3
    Free Member

    Shambolic, as we’d expect. Did Thérèse get an overnight phone call from the landowners’ lobby?

    Full Member

    The CLA statement is nonsense – it was the deadline that triggered a massive push by the BHF and Cycling UK to get upgrade applications submitted before rights of way were lost. And there was a backlog well before that – here in Calderdale there are applications going back to the 1990s that are still under consideration or “not yet investigated”.

    As for “agree[ing] appropriate modifications directly with landowners”, does that sound a bit cosy to anyone else?




    Full Member

    Deadline or not 1000s of trails will be lost. I contacted North Somerset council last year after Forest England closed a trail with no notice that was used by walkers, bike and horses for decades. After they sent me a link to a 40 page document outlining the process it was evident no individual could ever do this. However a landowner can close down / move an historic right of way anytime with no deadline.


    Full Member

    It would be interesting to know where the other parties stand on this.

    Full Member

    Time for rioting, burning down buildings and liberal guillotine use to the heads of the Bourgeoisie, just like the French did (and still do for 2 of those 3).

    Full Member

    I honestly can’t work up the energy to be angry at the shit this government pulls anymore. Legality of access has made zero difference to where I choose to ride and pretty much always will anyway. If landowners are so shortsighted that they think these sorts of regressive cut-off tactics will make a difference to how people like me access the countryside that we all live in, then they deserve all the hassle that not sorting it brings them. Idiots.

    Free Member

    I agree with Nickc. After watching the tory party debase values and ethics, if challenged whilst riding I’ve gone from saying I’m sorry to I don’t care. This it what happens when people like Boris get in power.

    Full Member

    Maybe lobby the shadow minister. They’re more likely to make the final decision on this.

    Full Member

    Labour have a clear position on opening up access around this agenda, sit tight and lets see what comes in with the next election. Hopefully this will be a short term win for a few privileged land owners.

    Free Member

    Arise citizens, raise your battalions…

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