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The new 2031 cut-off date for historical public rights of way: issues for landowners

Sponsored feature | Brendon Lee, senior associate, HCR Hewitsons

Brendon Lee, of HCR Hewitsons
Brendon Lee, of HCR Hewitsons

You may be aware that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRWA) introduced a provision for a cut-off date of 1 January, 2026 for the recording of historic rights of way. This was seen as an opportunity to bring more certainty for the public and landowners alike.

In short, if a public right of way was created before 1 January, 1949 and is not shown on the definitive map for the area on the cut-off date then, subject to exceptions, it is extinguished immediately and cannot be later recorded.

The government has said that a regulation will be laid in Parliament to move the cut-off date to 1 January, 2031.

Why is the 2031 cut-off date important to landowners?

Many landowners will be shocked when they first hear of applications to record a public footpath or bridleway over their land which, if correct, possibly have been long forgotten about and unused for more than a century.

The cut-off date will prevent the removal or modification of historical public rights of way wrongly recorded on the definitive map. Section 55A of CRWA, once in force, will prohibit any modification to the definitive map and statement which might affect the exercise of the public right of way and is based solely on evidence the route did not exist before 1 January, 1949.

This is important because any historical errors on the definitive map and statement cannot be changed after the cut-off date. Thereafter, you cannot apply to remove or downgrade a wrongly-recorded route and even applying to modify a wrongly-recorded line or width of a route may be difficult if it ‘might affect the exercise’ of the public right of way.

Therefore, if there are mistakes on the definitive map or statement which you wish to be corrected then you must act now before it is too late. Similarly, if there is an application to record a historical public right of way, then you must defend it now as you will not get a second chance.

Next steps for landowners

You should be considering now whether such routes are correctly recorded, and if not whether you should be applying to correct them.

Likewise, if an application to record an historic public right of way is made against your land, landowners should not only be resisting such applications but also ensuring any recorded route is legally accurate as you will not be able to amend it after 2031.

It may seem that 2031 is a long way off, but councils can take years to determine applications and the government may not extend the cut-off date again. You do not want to miss your opportunity.

For more information, contact Brendon Lee, senior associate in the planning, highways and environment team, on 01223 532757, 07467 719066 or at blee@hcrlaw.com.

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