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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Restricted Byways (Application and Consequential Amendment of Provisions) Regulations 2006

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Fourth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. Eric Illsley

†Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
†Cousins, Jim (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab)
†Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
†Hendrick, Mr. Mark (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh) (LD)
Jackson, Mr. Stewart (Peterborough) (Con)
†Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Key, Robert (Salisbury) (Con)
†Knight, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
†Lloyd, Tony (Manchester, Central) (Lab)
†Murphy, Mr. Denis (Wansbeck) (Lab)
†Paice, Mr. James (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
†Rogerson, Mr. Dan (North Cornwall) (LD)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

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Tuesday 14 March 2006

[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Draft Restricted Byways (Application and Consequential Amendment of Provisions) Regulations 2006

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Restricted Byways (Application and Consequential Amendment of Provisions) Regulations 2006.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for what I think is the first time, Mr. Illsley.

Restricted byways are a new category of highway introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. They give right of way to those on foot, those on horseback or leading a horse, and vehicles other than mechanically propelled vehicles, including pedal cycles. There are currently four categories of highway: footpaths, bridleways, RUPPs, which are roads used as public paths, and BOATs, which are byways open to all traffic. Restricted byways are being introduced to deal with the long-standing problem of the failure of some local authorities to fulfil their statutory duty to reclassify all their RUPPs. The CROW Act provides for all RUPPs automatically to become restricted byways as soon as the relevant provisions commence. That will relieve local authorities of the burden of reclassifying those rights of way.

The regulations amend existing highways legislation, both secondary and primary, to ensure that restricted byways operate sensibly within the existing framework of relevant legislation. There is nothing controversial about the regulations. Indeed, the single most controversial issue during the public consultation on restricted byways was the colour of the signs waymarking the new right of way; 103 of the 155 representations received were about that. However, the colour will be specified not in the regulations, but in accompanying guidance.

The regulations provide for new restricted byways to be created. That will help local authorities to improve their rights of way networks by enabling them to insert links between fragmented sections of rights of way and to create circular routes. In the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, there is a provision for restricted byways to be established and recorded on the definitive map and statement on the basis of either historical evidence or evidence of a qualifying period of use. In future, where rights for mechanically propelled vehicles are extinguished by the Bill’s provisions, but where that route carries historical vehicular rights, it will be possible to record
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that route as a restricted byway, rather than a BOAT. In that way, the rights associated with rights of way will better reflect their historical origins.

I am aware that many Members are keen for the rights of way provisions in the NERC Bill to commence as soon as possible. Because restricted byways are closely linked to the Bill’s rights of way provisions, those provisions will not work and cannot commence until the regulations are in place. On that basis, I commend them to the Committee.

10.33 am

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley, and I am grateful to the Minister for his short but helpful introduction.

When the concept of restricted byways was debated by the Committee considering the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, on which I was Front-Bench spokesman, we supported the idea, and it is a perfectly sensible move. I have just two or three questions that I would be grateful if the Minister answered. First, a restricted byway excludes mechanically propelled vehicles, as he rightly said. Can he clarify the position for people who need access? I am thinking particularly of farmers who need access to land and who do not wish to open up the bigger-risk issue of BOATs. Is there a way for a path to be a restricted byway, not the subject of an application for a BOAT, and yet for the farmer to retain access to the land or property that lies partly on it?

Secondly, the creation of a restricted byway, linked to clause 65 of the NERC Bill, extinguishes one’s right to apply for a BOAT because of use by other vehicles while claiming access for mechanically propelled vehicles. What happens if something is classified as a restricted byway and, later, an interest group brings forward evidence that there has been use by mechanically propelled vehicles at some stage?

The third issue relates to time scale. The Minister rightly referred to the fact that many local authorities have not dealt with RUPPs as we would have liked. The reclassification has been long and slow, and the creation of a restricted byway classification is seen as a way of removing that obligation. However, in the explanatory memorandum, paragraph 7.3 says:

    “The 2000 Act therefore seeks to put an end to this uncertainty by reclassifying all remaining RUPPs as restricted byways, and specifying the rights which are to exist over them.”

Presumably, that means specifying whether it is to be a bridleway, footpath or whatever. That is not a simple stroke-of-a-pen job, because specifying the rights that exist over each—I assume that it means each—highway involves work. Can the Minister shed some light on how he envisages local authorities addressing that issue?

My final point is on the synchronisation of the introduction of restricted byways with the commencement of the NERC Bill, although I do not wish to stray into debate on that Bill, which I know is for another time. Can the Minister clarify what the impact of the two relevant dates is? If, in the next few weeks, the House decides to implement clause 65 of the
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Bill earlier than was intended—the matter is the subject of an amendment in another place—will that affect restricted byways? Equally, what would happen if the clause were to be implemented later? I am just trying to emphasise the importance of the two dates being synchronised. If the Minister can offer clarification on the points that I have raised, I will be happy to support the regulations.

10.38 am

Mr. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I agree that the attitude of many to the regulations will be that it is about time that they were introduced. That is particularly true of those who use the countryside as a refuge and a place of peace and quiet. As we have heard, there are anomalies concerning access to some dwellings in the countryside that are currently accessed by RUPPs. People occupying them will obviously be anxious to know whether the Minister can reassure them that, under the regulations, they can continue to access those dwellings.

Local authorities, too, will no doubt welcome matters being taken out of their hands. I am sure that the Minister will join me in congratulating my local authority, Cornwall, which settled matters some time ago; we would not expect anything less from a very efficient, Liberal Democrat-controlled authority. How will the regulations affect applications that are still being considered for conversion of RUPPs to BOATs? Will people have to return to the beginning of the process? Of course, that may mean that local authorities incur further costs. Has any provision been made to enable local authorities to address that, as we all know that local authorities across the country are fairly cash-strapped?

In essence, the regulations are a useful step forward. Obviously, we await what will happen under the NERC Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to address the questions raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and me, and that there will be some clarification for people for whom access to property is a significant issue, and for people who are currently involved in applications.

10.40 am

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on taking this important step. I wish to ask him what I hope is a straightforward question. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Rogerson) referred to this matter being of interest in rural areas. It also applies—perhaps even more forcefully—in urban areas, where these types of byways have in the past been polluted by, for example, people using motorcycles in areas where horses and pedestrians want to walk in peace. It may not be necessary to state this in the regulations, but what penalties are available against those who breach restricted byways—for example, by flagrantly riding motorcycles in Clayton vale in my constituency or the Mersey valley, both of which are areas of great natural beauty that are polluted by motorised vehicles?

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10.41 am

Jim Knight: Hon. Members have asked a series of questions, and I will answer them as best I can. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asked about farmers retaining access to their property. Existing private rights are not affected. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill will ensure that anyone driving on a restricted byway to access their land will not be committing an offence under section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. In addition, the Bill will provide for a private right for mechanically propelled vehicles where a public right for mechanically propelled vehicles is extinguished. That also addresses a question of the hon. Member for North Cornwall in respect of people accessing their dwellings.

Both hon. Members asked about local authorities and how they would handle things. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall said, this is essentially good news for local authorities, because it will remove a significant burden from them. That burden has been growing, as has been documented during the debates on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. However, to clarify the matters that have been raised, we will issue guidance to local authorities with an interest in rights of way on how to apply these regulations.

The synchronisation point is pertinent and important. The timing is crucial. As we extinguish the historic rights of people to claim rights of way, and introduce restricted byways as the status quo that will emerge from the end of RUPPs, it is important that there be co-ordination. These regulations and sections 47 to 50 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 will be commenced shortly before part 6 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. Part 6 does not operate properly without sections 47 to 50. That is partly why we cannot have retrospective commencement. As is being discussed in another place, we can have retrospectivity in respect of applications for conversions to BOATs, but we cannot have other forms of retrospectivity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) asked about penalties. The penalties are set out in the Road Traffic Act 1988. Local highways authorities can also use traffic regulation orders on existing rights of way in order to control them. Therefore, where in my hon. Friend’s constituency, or areas local to his constituency that he has concerns about, rights of way are being used legally but damage is being caused, it is open to the local highways authority to use a traffic regulation order to control that. Penalties and offences are set out in the Road Traffic Act.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire quoted from the explanatory memorandum and asked whether the regulations would affect a situation where a former road used as a public path has already been reclassified as a BOAT, a bridleway or a footpath. The rights are automatically designated by section 47 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, and there is no need for work by the local authority.

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Mr. Paice: That is not what I asked about. I realise that there is no retrospective reclassification. I asked about the future. What happens if, at some stage, evidence arises that a byway that has already been classified as a restricted byway as a result of these regulations has in fact had mechanical vehicular traffic at some stage—for example, somebody may swear an affidavit that they used to use it? Will it be possible for an interest group to claim it as a BOAT, which is reclassification but not retrospectively? Secondly, I asked about specifying the rights that exist. The Minister referred to guidance to local authorities, but can he confirm that, when local authorities reclassify RUPPs as restricted byways, they will at that stage have to specify for each one what the rights are, whether it is a footpath, a bridleway or whatever?

Jim Knight: The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill will extinguish the motor vehicular rights, so I do not think that the question about future
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reclassification will arise, but if that is not the case I will write to the hon. Gentleman. His second question was on specifying individual rights. As I understand it, that would be done on the definitive map and statement. That is where everything is set out in terms of what right of way is what. The definitive map will specify what a restricted byway is. Local authorities will not have to do any work. It will be done under section 47 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Restricted Byways (Application and Consequential Amendment of Provisions) Regulations 2006.

Committee rose at twelve minutes to 11 o’clock.


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