A comprehensive, nationwide solution to the problem of 4x4s and motorbikes on green lanes is some way off – but there has been some progress.
- NERC 2006
- Traffic Regulation Orders
- The Sanford Principle
- Role of the PDNPA
- The continuing problem of UCRs
- Historical research
In 2006 the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC) put a stop to many new attempts to turn green lanes into Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs). It did this by getting rid of the legal principle that an ancient right of way for horse-drawn carts meant a right of way for motor vehicles.
NERC was, and remains, good news. But it left unclassified county roads (UCRs) unprotected. It also left untouched a large number of applications by offroaders to reclassify green lanes as byways open to all traffic BOATs. The Act had set a deadline for new BOAT applications. Nationally, hundreds of applications beat the deadline, including many in the Peak District.
An important legal case known as ‘The Winchester Judgment’ has cut down the number of deadline-beating applications. It insisted that all BOAT applications had to be made precisely as set down in the regulations. This meant that applications had to be accompanied by maps drawn to the correct scale and all the necessary historical evidence. Many deadline-beating BOAT applications are turning out, in the light of the Winchester ruling, to be defective: they cannot secure the motor vehicle rights that the applicants were hoping for. But other applications are succeeding, including many in the Peak District.
Traffic regulation orders (TROs)
The NERC Act gave National Park authorities the power to introduce traffic regulation orders (TROs). These can ban or limit use of recreational 4x4s and motor bikes on BOATS and UCRs. Highway authorities already had this power but Derbyshire County Council, in whose territory most of the problems lie, has been very reluctant to impose permanent TROs. Guidance
published in 2007 by the Department for Environment Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the power of National Park Authorities to make TROs makes it clear that they can use TROs following proven damage to the environment. They can also use TROs pre-emptively if they have reason to believe that damage will take place in the future. The challenge in the Peak District is to persuade both the Peak District National Park Authority and the county highway authorities to make more use of their TRO powers.
The Sandford Principle
The ‘Sandford Principle’ [link to glossary item] is the legal requirement placed on National Park Authorities by the Environment Act 1995 to give priority to conservation over recreation should it prove impossible to manage a conflict between the two.
It should be useful in protecting green lanes but we have not yet seen it being used to do so in the Peak District National Park.
The Sandford Principle is named after Lord Sandford, who chaired the National Parks Policy Review Committee between 1971and 1974.
The role of the PDNPA
The Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) has been trying to manage the conflict between offroading on the one hand and conserving and protecting the environment on the other. Its efforts currently focus on management plans for the worst affected green lanes in the Peak District.
The PDGLA welcomes these management plans but believes that, once the 23 routes have been repaired under the plans, they should be protected permanently by the PDNPA through Traffic Regulation Orders , closing them forever to motor vehicles.
We believe that allowing vehicles to damage repaired routes all over again is perverse and a wasteful use of public funds. We think that the PDNPA will be failing in its statutory purpose ‘to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park’ should it not try to use its TRO powers to protect these routes from new damage by motor vehicles.
We also believe that the PDNPA has now gathered enough evidence of the damage done by offroading on unsealed routes to use their TROs pre-emptively to protect all other vulnerable routes in the national park from further damage.
We recognise that the PDNPA cannot simply try to apply a blanket ban on all recreational vehicles on every green lane, right across the national park. It has to consider each green lane, case by case, balancing its obligation to keep lanes open to those with legal rights of way, against its primary statutory purpose of protecting and enhancing the landscape in its care.
We are encouraging the Authority to work quickly through a list of all green lanes in the Park, considering the case for the imposition on each of them of traffic regulation orders. This is likely to be a lengthy process. No extra government money came with the new TRO-making powers. And though the general public is in favour of closing green lanes to motor vehicles, TROs are usually contested by vehicle user groups and legal procedures have to be carefully followed.
The continuing problem of UCRs
Unsurfaced Unclassified County Roads (UCRs), sometimes called Unclassified County Roads were excluded from the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act. Many of these are green lanes, but vehicle user groups claim that motor vehicles have the right to use them. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insists that the rights of way on each UCR must be established case by case.
The process of clarifying the rights of way status on each and every UCR will take years – years during which 4×4 and motorbike users will take advantage of the uncertain status of these lanes and go on causing damage and nuisance. Unless, that is, traffic regulation orders (TROs) are imposed on these routes. Both the National Park Authority and the highway authorities with territory inside the Peak Park must be encouraged to press on with the TROs, stopping only when the whole network of vulnerable UCRs is out of bounds to recreational motor vehicles.
Green lanes must be effectively policed. Naturally enough, at present, a hard-pressed police force sets a rather low priority on catching illegal 4×4 and motorcycle users. But things are changing. The weight of complaints from the public to the Peak District National Park Authority, and to the police themselves, steadily increases. The police are responding. They are beginning to stop vehicles that are not road-worthy, or are unlicensed or uninsured, but they could do more. The vehicles of persistent offenders may be confiscated – and even crushed. Anyone caught riding and driving illegally can and should be prosecuted.
The police already hold days of action in the National Park, designed to raise the profile of law enforcement, but we need the police to prosecute illegal users not just warn them. Meanwhile, the NERC Act will make their job somewhat easier: it will clarify which routes are legal, and which are not.
Strong, permanent, effective signage which cannot be easily vandalised is important. It makes it impossible for vehicle users to claim that they do not know whether or not a route is legally open to them. It makes it easier for the police to know which routes do and do not have vehicle rights. And it makes it easer for the public to recognise and report illegal use.
Decisions about the final status of a green lane used by vehicles rests on evidence about how the lane was used in the past. PDGLA will be doing historical research to find out whether or not particular routes have historic vehicle rights. Where it can be shown that a route was never open to horse-drawn carts, motor vehicle rights can be established only on the basis of 20 years’ user evidence. This is easier to challenge than horse-and-cart evidence.
The highway authorities are legally obliged to investigate the historic use of contested routes. Investigations into a single route can take many months. When the result leads to a public enquiry, and then an appeal to the Secretary of State, the months turn into years.