Information 1

Understanding & Discovering

Vehicular Rights of Way


Our countryside has a priceless heritage of public rights of way - ways where the public have a right to walk and, in some cases, to ride horses, bicycles or motor cycles or to drive motor vehicles.
So that everyone - walker, rider, driver, farmer and landowner alike - may know which paths are public rights of way, local authorities have drawn up special maps. These are known as definitive maps.

What is a definitive map?

A definitive map is a map prepared by a surveying authority which is a legal record of the public's rights of way in one of four categories (footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic). If a way is shown on the map, then that is legal, or conclusive, evidence that the public had those rights along the way at the relevant date of the map (and have them still, unless there has been a legally authorized change). But the reverse is not true. So the showing of a way as a footpath does not prove that there are not, for example, additional unrecorded rights for horseriders to use the way. Nor is the fact that a way not shown at all on the definitive map proof that the public has no rights over it.
The definitive map is therefore useful in providing evidence of the public's rights, but may not tell the whole story. A check should be made with the surveying authority to see if it has reason to believe that there are additional rights, as yet unrecorded, over any particular area of land. This can be especially important if the land is for sale or is the subject of a planning application for development.
Definitive maps have to be compiled for all of England and Wales except the 12 inner London boroughs.

The definitive statement

The map is accompanied by a statement which describes each right of way in greater or lesser detail. If the statement defines the position or width of a right of way shown on the map, then that information is conclusive evidence of the position or width of the public's right of way at the relevant date. similarly, if the statement contains details of any limitation or condition attached to the public's rights, then that too is conclusive evidence of the existence of such a limitation or condition at the relevant date. As with the definitive map, there may be additional limitations or conditions on the public's rights, as yet unrecorded.

The 'relevant date'

Each definitive map and statement has a 'relevant date'. The evidence that the map provides of the existence of public rights is evidence that they existed at that date. It is possible that a legal change, for example the diversion of a way, has happened since the relevant date. In such a case the definitive map and statement should have been amended by order and the change will have its own, later, relevant date. Details of the change should be available for public inspection with the map and statement. If you are in doubt about whether, or how, the map and statement have been changed in this way, please ask the surveying authority(local council) for further information.

How can I find out which ways are included on the definitive map?

The map and statement must be available for the public to inspect free of charge at all reasonable hours. A telephone call to the surveying authority will tell you in which office you will find the map. In addition, in each district in a county there must be available for inspection a copy of at least that part of the map and statement which covers the district, and the orders which have amended it: this will often he available at the district council offices. Furthermore, parish councils normally have a copy of that part of the map. Some libraries have copies of definitive maps and statements for inspection.
Finally, the definitive maps are used by Ordnance Survey to provide the rights of way information that is shown on Landranger (1:50,000 scale) maps (in red) and Pathfinder and outdoor Leisure (1:25,000) maps (in green). However, in case of dispute, reference should he made to the definitive map rather than the Ordnance Survey map, which cannot in itself provide conclusive evidence.

The four categories of rights of way

As mentioned above, public rights of way are shown on definitive maps in four categories:

  • if a way is shown as a footpath, then that is conclusive evidence that the public had a right of way on foot at the relevant date;
  • if a way is shown as a bridleway, then that is conclusive evidence that the public had a right of way on foot, on horseback and leading a horse at the relevant date
  • if a way is Shown as a road used as a public path (RUPP), then that is conclusive evidence that the public had a right of way on foot, on horseback and leading a horse at the relevant date
  • if a way is shown as a byway open to all traffic, then that is conclusive evidence that the public had a right of way on foot, on horseback and in or on vehicles, including motor vehicles and pedal cycles, at the relevant date. Before a way can be shown as a byway, its use by the public must he shown to be mainly on foot or on horseback - the definitive map is not intended to be a map of all of the roads you can drive along.

The public also may have rights additional to those shown on definitive maps but as yet unrecorded. This applies particularly in the case of ways shown as roads used as public paths, which are, in consequence, being reclassified to clarify the rights that the public have. See paragraph on RUPP's for more Information on this reclassification.

What makes a way a public right of way?

Apart from the cases where a new right of way has been specifically created, for example, by means of a public path creation order under the Highways Act 1980 or through an Inclosure Award, ways become public rights of way through dedication of the right to the public by the landowner. In a few cases. the dedication is express - the landowner consciously and deliberately makes a way a public right of way. But in the great majority of cases the dedication is presumed from evidence of the use of the way made by the public, of the actions, or inactions, of the landowner during the relevant period, and of historical documents.

Evidence is the key

The definitive map is a legal recognition of existing public rights to walk, ride and use vehicles. As such, any proposal to modify it by means of a definitive map modification order to add a right of way has to be judged by the legal test: 'Do the rights set out in the order already exist?". If they do, then the map must be modified, regardless of any effect on anyone's property interests, or whether or not the routes physically exist at the present time on the ground. Similarly, if the evidence in support of the order proves to be insufficient, and the test is not satisfied, then the map remains as it is, however desirable it may seem for the public to have those additional rights.
Evidence is also the key where the proposal is to delete or downgrade a right of way already shown on the map. In this case, it must demonstrate clearly that a right of way, of that status, did not exist when it was first shown on the definitive map, and that an error was made.
The Department of the Environment has prepared guidance notes on evidence which are available to Inspectors considering opposed definitive map modification orders. they are also available to the public and may be obtained from the Department of the Environment, PINS 1, Room 13/21, Tollgate House, Houlton Street, Bristol BS2 9 DJ (01272-878022 - Ask for Nicola Bye).

Reclassification of roads used as public paths

As there is confusion over exactly what rights the public have over ways shown on definitive maps as roads used as public paths (RUPPs), there is a provision in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (section 54) which requires the surveying authority to make definitive map reclassification orders to reclassify each way currently so shown.
Each RUPP has to be reclassified:

  • as a byway open to all traffic if the public can be shown to have a right of way for vehicles;
  • as a bridleway if no rights for vehicles can be shown to exist and bridieway rights have not been shown not to exist;
  • as a footpath only if neither of the other options applies.

Surveying authorities have to consider each RUPP in turn, examining the evidence, including evidence of historical rights, before deciding how to reclassify the RUPP. The condition of the way and its suitability, or otherwise, for motor traffic are not relevant factors that the authority should consider.In whichever category a RUPP is reclassified, its surface has to be maintained by the authority. However, reclassification as a byway open to all traffic does not place the authority under any extra obligation to surface the way so as to make it suitable for vehicles; nor does reclassification as a byway limit the ability of the authority to make a traffic regulation order under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to restrict or prohibit the use of the way by all or certain types of user.

In summary

You have a legal right to drive Byways Open to All Traffic (BOAT) and Unclassified County Roads (UCR). In some areas there are still rights of way known as Roads Used as Public Paths (RUPP). Some of these have vehicular rights, some do not. If in doubt, check with the local highway authority by phoning and asking for an appointment to view the definitive map (usually a weekday during office hours). Definitive maps are marked differently to OS maps. Also the definitive map is normally many sheets, so it may take some time or even a few return trips to find all the information you may need (Ask if you are unsure). Some councils will actually send you copies of the definitive map (some might charge for this service), and a few will send you a list of vehicular rights of way complete with grid refs.
BOAT's are usually signposted as "Byway" and may be way marked with red arrows. Some vehicular rights of way have been closed by Traffic Regulation Orders TRO). You must obey the signs at the end of these roads. UCR's are not marked on the definitive map, and you will find some surfaced and some unsurfaced. Usually the Highway department should hold this information and may be held in a different building to the definitive map.
Do not assume that Ordnance Survey maps give correct information on rights of way. Many maps contain out-of-date information, especially as regards RUPP's. OS Maps do not indicate which roads are Unclassified County Roads. Do not assume any minor road is open to the public. Some highways shown as bridleways and footpaths are actually vehicular rights of way. Unless you have proof of this you must not drive on a footpath or bridleway.

.. Taken from the GLASS information sheet.