Agenda item

Footpaths and Bridleways (Agenda item 7)

At their meeting on 25 July 2007 the Panel, whilst discussing Sports and Arts development in Breckland, identified the associated issue of footpaths and bridleways in terms of both leisure and the health and fitness agenda. The Panel agreed to add consideration of this issue to their future work programme (Minute 38/07 refers).


Mr David Mills, Countryside Access Development Officer at Norfolk County Council, will attend to facilitate a wider discussion of this issue. 


Members are requested to give some prior thought to this item and consider in advance any questions they may wish to ask. 


Mr David Mills, the Countryside Access Development Officer for Norfolk County Council, was in attendance for this item by invitation to provide information and advice in relation to footpaths and bridleways in Breckland. He provided Members with a brief overview of his responsibilities and the areas that he covered.  His basic work remit was managing and developing a well maintained accessible network and the promotion of access.


Norfolk County Council’s Environment and Waste Group developed and managed Norfolk’s public rights of way, many promoted routes, and other countryside or woodland access sites.


There were over 2,300 miles of public rights of way in Norfolk.  The countryside access network was important for recreation, tourism, the rural economy and health and also formed part of the County’s transport network.  Well signed and well maintained paths kept the countryside access network clear and helped prevent trespass.  Norfolk County Council and land managers were responsible for ensuring that the public rights of way network was accessible.


A public right of way was a route of way over which the public had a legal right to pass and re-pass.  All public rights of way were public highways.  The land over which the right of way ran was usually private land; the surface of the path was vested in the Highway Authority but the sub-soil was the property of the landowner.


Mr Mills provided Members with the classifications and the legal uses of the different types of public rights of way that were made up as follows:


  • 70% footpaths
  • 15% bridleway
  • 14% restricted byway; and
  • 1% cycleway/byway


Public footpaths could be used by people on foot with permitted accompaniments including pushchairs or dogs.


Public bridleways could be used for walking, riding or leading a horse or cycling.


Restricted byways could be used for walking, cycling and horse riding; no motor vehicles were allowed.


A public byway was the same as a restricted byway but motor vehicles were allowed.


From this information, Members then raised a series of questions.


1.      Where did the footpath and bridleway remit fit into Breckland’s Healthy Wellbeing initiative?

2.      How closely did the authority work with landowners?

3.      Did Norfolk County Council have a ‘green bridge’ initiative?

4.      If a Parish or landowner was to gift a piece of land would Norfolk County Council sign it and maintain it?

5.      Why was it so difficult to get a temporary diversion to an existing footpath?


In response to the aforementioned questions, Mr Mills advised that the Healthy Wellbeing initiative fell under the Healthy Walks and Opportunities regime.  He explained that Norfolk County Council was obliged to consider these issues under the Health and Disability Act and met the requirements under the guise of Parish Walks.  The Chairman felt that, in some areas, many of the footpaths were in a poor condition and he asked whether more money could be spent on the upkeep of the footpaths.  He suggested that the funding for matters of this nature should be included in the Healthy Wellbeing budget.


In response to the second question, Mr Mills explained that his department worked very closely with landowners.  A new advisory booklet had been produced for landowners which provided advice on managing public rights of way on their land. Most of the 2,300 miles of footpaths and bridleways in the County passed through farmland.  The booklet, which had been supported by the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Business Association, explained the responsibilities of farmers together with those of the walkers and riders who used the paths.  The booklet reminded farmers of the importance of complying with the law when carrying out agricultural processes.  The launch of the information booklet had coincided with the start of Norfolk County Council’s annual path cutting contract.  During the growing season, contractors acting for the Council would be cutting over 1000 miles of paths.  This, combined with the cross field paths that landowners were responsible for maintaining, provided a great path network in the County.  Members were informed that the farming and footpaths advice booklet was available to download on Norfolk County Council’s website.  Norfolk County Council was using a company called Student Force, who were interested in this field of work, and who were looking to further their experience, to follow up this promotional booklet and chase up any landowners who were not complying with the law.  Farmers could lose their grant aid from DEFRA if they did not comply with the Right of Way Act.


In answer to question three, Mr Mills was not aware of Norfolk County Council having a ‘green bridge’ initiative; however, he did assume that such initiatives would be included more frequently in future major development schemes, particularly in Thetford.  On another matter, the Chairman questioned the Norfolk County Council’s decision, on a recent planning application in Shipdham, not to install any further footpaths along a busy stretch of road.  Mr Mills advised that this matter fell directly to the Highway Authority. 

A Member referred to the Peddars Way trail and asked what procedure he would have to follow if he felt that it should be extended.  In response, the Member was informed that he would have to consult with local landowners to allow for an extension to a footway. Permissive access could be negotiated.


Referring to the fourth question, the Panel was informed that if a landowner was to gift a piece of land, he would be allowing the public to walk on it.  It would be classed as a gentleman’s agreement.  A dedication of land would be much more difficult to obtain. However, there was not much of an incentive for a landowner to gift a piece of land particularly where public liability was concerned.


In response to the final question, Mr Mills advised that the process for moving a footpath was available.  However, there was again not much of an incentive for a farmer/landowner to carry this out. If the landowner did decide to create a new path alongside his field as an alternative to the existing footpath, more of his land would be lost due to the legislation stating that the landowner would still have an obligation to the existing footpath as well as the new one. 


The Chairman thanked Mr Mills for attending the meeting.