Recent articles in the Telegraph and the Times have suggested landowners have won a new right to move footpaths from their land, a misleading interpretation of proposed changes to rights of way legislation put forward as part of the draft Deregulation Bill which, if implemented as a package, will benefit both walkers and landowners alike.
Landowners can already apply for paths to be diverted from their land and the majority of footpath diversions go through unopposed. Any proposal to move a path must however meet certain tests; the proposed new route can’t be less convenient for walkers to use and mustn’t hamper their enjoyment of the path. These important tests will remain in place as part of the Deregulation Bill, offering protection for scenic and well-used paths.
The Deregulation Bill, part of the Government's ongoing drive to remove bureaucracy, aims to simplify the process for claiming paths and adding them to ‘definitive maps’ (the official record of rights of way in England and Wales), making it more consistent across the country and less contentious.
The simplified process will mean that when a landowner is notified of a claim for a path across their land, they can discuss a simultaneous diversion with the local authority at an early stage. If the proposed new route isn’t significantly less convenient or enjoyable for path users, it can be processed at the same time as the order to add the path to the local authority’s definitive map.
This streamlining means path claims are less likely to be contested by landowners and paths can be added to definitive maps more quickly and easily. All unrecorded paths that existed before 1949 must be added to definitive maps by 1 January 2026 and with a backlog of thousands of paths already waiting to be added, it’s especially important that the process is speeded up or we risk losing the paths forever.
Many of these paths have existed for hundreds of years – they’re an inscription on the landscape made by generations of people going about their business and are as much a part of our heritage as our ancient monuments and historic buildings. By adding them to official records they can’t be blocked off or built on and are protected for future generations to enjoy.
“These articles are extremely misleading,” said Ramblers Chief Executive Benedict Southworth, commenting on the recent news reports. “The proposed legislation has been carefully put together by representatives from landowners, paths users and local government - including ourselves and the NFU - who have worked together for over three years to simplify the law around rights of way for the benefit of everyone.”
“Our network of paths provides an important role connecting people to green spaces, allowing them to travel to shops and to schools and are enjoyed by millions each year,” added Benedict. “This unique network attracts tourists from around the world and provides a vital contribution to the economy - last year alone visitors to England’s outdoors spent £21 billion. We hope that this new legislation will make it easier for our historic paths to get the protection they need so that we can continue to walk and enjoy them.”
We’ll continue to monitor the development of the Deregulation Bill closely as makes its way through Parliament this year.