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County Council or Unitary Authorities have a duty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to keep the Definitive Map of Public Rights of Way under continuous review and to make modifications where it appears that routes should be added, re-graded amended or deleted.
It is important to be aware that this review often commences at meetings of the relevant Parish Council where a member of the County Council attends and members of the public are invited to make representations to the County Council in order to amend the map.
The usual course of events is that interested parties are seeking to add further rights of way to the Definitive Map and have to evidence 20 years’ continuous use as of right over the land and the route.
It is important for land owners to be aware of the nature of these meetings and the implications that can arise. As a consequence of this process alleged rights of way which would significantly affect the operation of land or its use could be sought to be initiated by members of the public.
The process is one whereby the County Council will carry out a consultation exercise and at this stage it is critically important to ensure that if you wish to object to the order that you prepare evidence and representations so that you can effectively challenge the procedure which is on-going. It has been found to be invaluable that if an application can be dismissed at this stage, it does not go any further. Failure to deal with these kinds of issues can result in a modification order being made where rights of way could be confirmed.
An alternative to reacting to a Definitive Map review is to consider making a declaration under Section 31 of the Highways Act to, in effect, definitively state to the Council which public rights of way exist. It has the effect of preventing any other rights of way being registered once such a declaration is made unless they exist before the date of the declaration and are the subject of an application.