Landowners in Somerset have condemned laws which have enabled a local access group to attempt to resurrect lost or defunct rights of way at a potential cost to the taxpayer of more than £1million.
The South Somerset Bridleways Association has applied to Somerset County Council to have around 200 rights of way reinstated on to the Definitive Maps – bridleways the Association says were mistakenly missed off the map.
But the CLA says that the whole costly and time-consuming exercise underlines an essential flaw in the system which it has been campaigning to change for years.
Of the 240 applications submitted to Somerset County Council’s Rights of Way Department, more than four-fifths were submitted by the SSBA. The CLA says it misses the point of how to bring about improvements and positive gains to the rights of way system.
“The cost of processing each application can be as much as £7,000 – excluding the cost of physically reinstating the bridleway - and with the number of applications already in the pipeline, it will take the county council until 2036 to process them – 10 years beyond the date when the Definitive Map is due to be closed. And we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The issues that have come to light in Somerset are being replicated throughout the country with a potential cost to the public purse many millions of pounds,” said CLA South West spokesman Paul Millard.
He said a costly and ill-fated effort to put disused rights of way back on the definitive map, initiated by Natural England under the Discovering Lost Ways project, had been abandoned four years ago – but the door had been left open for user groups to attempt to reinstate rights of way which they claim were not lost, simply not properly recorded.
Mr Millard said: “It is difficult to believe this is really what the public wants to see its money spent on. If we really want to make our rights of way fit for 21st Century rather than 19th Century demand then we need to move away from the premise of increasing the amount of access at whatever cost. We need to look at improving what is already there.
“There appear to have been mistakes in the applications by the South Somerset Bridleways Association which had also failed to make sufficient effort to contact the owners of the land affected.
“My understanding is that if the SSBA wishes to pursue these applications it will have to re-submit them – but we would urge the Association to think long and hard about the financial and practical consequences of their action before doing so. Surely they – and all the other access groups – would be better served working with landowners to achieve a system of voluntary or permissive access routes by mutual agreement.”
Any landowner concerned or affected by the proposals should, he said, contact the CLA Regional Office on 01249 700 200 for advice.
For further information on the CLA go to www.cla.org.uk