Guidance

Local authority rights of way improvement plans

As a local authority you must review your rights of way improvement plan every 10 years.

Most local authorities will already have a rights of way improvement plan. The plan must explain how improvements made by the local authority to the public rights of way network in your area will provide a better experience for these users:

  • walkers
  • cyclists
  • horse riders
  • horse and carriage drivers
  • people with mobility problems
  • people using motorised vehicles, eg motorbikes

Consult

Before preparing your plans and making assessments you must consult interested parties in the area your rights of way improvement plan will cover, including:

  • highway authorities whose areas adjoin your area
  • district councils and parish councils
  • the National Park Authority
  • the Broads Authority
  • Natural England
  • local access forums

You should carry out studies and surveys to find out whether local rights of way meet the needs of the public. Consult specific user groups as well as finding out the public’s general expectations of local rights of way.

You should also consult with owners and managers of land with public rights of way. Consider how the land is used for agriculture, forestry and nature conservation to avoid conflict and encourage co-operation in improving public rights of way.

Make an assessment

You must carry out an assessment of the local rights of way. Your assessment will form part of the rights of way improvement plan.

You must make a new assessment if you’re reviewing an existing plan.

Before making the assessment you must consider:

  • the definitive map and statement of rights of way (a map showing all local public rights of way and a statement which details all changes to the network) and any applications for changes to them
  • the current condition of the network
  • any improvement requests for the network

You must then make an assessment of:

  • to what extent routes are available to different groups of users, eg cyclists, walkers, horse riders
  • routes that are not suitable for all or some users, eg users with mobility problems
  • inconsistencies on individual rights of way, eg paths that don’t follow the mapped route or routes which have a dead end
  • opportunities to improve the network, eg restoring routes that have been cut off by building works

You’ll need to work closely with other local authorities while the plans are prepared, particularly where rights of way in your area are used mainly by another authority’s residents.

Make the plan

You should base your plan on the needs of local people and visitors to the area.

Consider:

  • access to the countryside or a particular viewpoint, feature or attraction
  • routes to support tourism, regeneration or community projects
  • alternative routes for cyclists, horse riders and walkers to avoid using busy roads
  • circular routes for leisure use, eg walking, running, cycling
  • paths and routes by water or the sea which need repairing
  • crossings over roads, railways, rivers and canals
  • existing rights of way, eg those that end in cul-de-sacs or that have different rights along their length
  • routes for local journeys, eg walking to work, the shops, railway stations
  • routes to help people travel through or around heavily developed areas

Your proposals for improving rights of way shouldn’t benefit one type of user at the expense of another, eg improvements intended to benefit cyclists that restrict motorists.

Prepare a statement of action

As part of the rights of way improvement plan you must prepare a statement of action which says how you plan to manage local rights of way for each type of user - this should be based on your assessment.

For each item in the statement of action you’ll need to include the:

  • proposed action
  • costs
  • organisations that will be involved
  • time it will take to complete

Publish the draft plan

Local authorities must publish a draft rights of way improvement plan in at least 2 local newspapers, with details of how the public can get a copy and make comments on it.

You must make sure a copy is available to view for free at the local authority offices. You must also supply a copy to anyone who requests it, for free or for a charge.

The draft plan must clearly state where comments should be sent and by when (you should allow a minimum of 12 weeks for comments to be received). You must read all comments and acknowledge that you’ve received them.

Publish the final plan

Make any changes that are required to the draft plan and then once it’s been agreed, publish the final plan, eg on the local authority website. You’ll also need to notify anyone who contributed to the plan that it’s been published.

You must make a copy available to view for free at the local authority offices. You must also supply a copy to anyone who requests it, for free or for a charge.

Publish a reviewed plan

After making a new assessment you must review your existing plan and decide whether to amend it.

If you decide to amend the plan you must publish the new version. If you decide not to amend it you must re-publish the existing plan and a report explaining the reasons that it hasn’t changed.

Get a copy of the statutory guidance

Email LAF@naturalengland.org.uk to request a copy of the rights of way improvement plans statutory guidance document.

Published 13 May 2015