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Definitive Map and Statement

Q: What is the definitive map?

A: The legal record of public rights of way maintained by the highway authority. Together with the definitive statement it provides conclusive evidence of the existence of each public right of way shown. Councils use these maps as a legal reference for searches, maintenance and enforcement of legislation. All legally existing public footpaths, public bridleways and byways open to all traffic should be shown on definitive maps, but there is still a lot of work to do to make sure that all maps are complete, accurate and up to date.

Q: What is the definitive statement?

A: This is a description of public rights of way that complements the definitive map describing the position of the rights of way shown on the definitive map, usually providing details of restrictions or limitations on the public's rights. These may include a maximum width, the presence of stiles or gates, or a right to plough the path. It is conclusive in law as to the particulars given.

Q: Is it true that a public right of way ceases to exist if it is not used for 20 years?

A: No - this is untrue. Public rights of way continue to exist indefinitely unless the land they cross is destroyed (for example by coastal erosion), or extinguished by a legal process. However, the opposite is true, as a public right of way can be acquired in certain circumstances where there was none previously if a route is used for 20 years (under the Highways Act 1980) or less time (if there is sufficient frequent use) under common law.

Q: How wide is a public right of way?

A: The definitive map and statement only occasionally specifies the width of a path. However, sometimes there is reliable documentary evidence that indicates the width. If the path is a track or sunken lane the width will usually be the full distance between the hedges, walls or banks. Read more about the widths of public rights of way.

Q: What is the minimum width of a gate on a bridleway?

A: The Highways Act 1980 states that the minimum passable width must be five feet (1.525 metres).

Q: Can a public right of way be moved?

A: Footpaths and bridleways can be diverted by the landowner under the Highways Act 1980 or under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (if the right of way has to be moved because of development and planning consent has been given). Application forms for a diversion under the Highways Act 1980 available from here (link to be added). Application forms under the TCPA from Development Control. Further information about the legal requirements when moving a right of way can be found here. Please note that any proposed new route will have to satisfy the legal tests and should comply with Defra Structures guidance (applies to any new gates) and it should also comply with the published Public Path Order Policies.

Q: Can the Definitive Map and Statement be changed?

A: Yes. There are several ways to change the Definitive Map and Statement - all of which require a legal process. Please see further information here.

Q: How can I claim a public right of way that is not shown on the definitive map?

A: Whilst the definitive map and statement are conclusive evidence of what they show, a route that is not shown may be a public right of way. Anyone may claim a public right of way by providing evidence and making application to the Highway Authority. The process takes several months or, in some cases, years, but is worth pursuing because a successful claim would help to protect rights for the public. Further information can be found here.

Q: I have always ridden my horse on a path but it has a footpath sign. How can the route be changed so that is a bridleway?

A: It is possible to change the status of a right of way (e.g. footpath to bridleway), for example if horseriders have used a footpath for several years without being challenged by the landowner it may be possible to apply to have the footpath 'recorded' as a bridleway.

Q: I have been using a path for years and it has recently been blocked by a locked gate, a fence or building or there is a new private sign or someone has stopped me and told me not to use the path. What can I do about this?

A: Check whether the path is a public right of way on the map. You may remove a sufficient amount of an obstruction on a public right of way to get by or else you may take a short detour to get around it, but be careful not to trespass on another owner's land. Be aware however that if, for instance, you cut an illegal fence wire across a public right of way thereby allowing stock to escape onto a road you could be liable for damages. It is best to report the obstruction to the Public Rights of Way Team for them to take action.

Q: I've got a problem with a path on my land - can I have it closed or moved?

A: A landowner may apply for an extinguishment or diversion order, although certain criteria must be met and the public are allowed opportunity to object. The process can take several years and there is a cost involved.

Q: The path that I use is not shown on my map. Does this mean that I should not be using the path?

A: If you are using an Ordnance Survey map these show public rights of way but there may have been changes to the network since publication of the OS map. It is advisable to check the definitive map and statement as this is the legal record of public rights of way. If the path is NOT shown on the definitive map and statement but you have been using the path for several years it may be possible to add it to the definitive map and statement.

Q: What is a modification order?

A: The definitive map and statement are not always complete. Some rights of way may have been missed off the map and other paths may have been incorrectly recorded with the wrong status. These mistakes may be corrected by modification order; a formal process which modifies the definitive map and statement. Councils process orders when they come across evidence that a change is needed. However, the public may gather their own evidence and apply for an order, further information on this can be found here. This often includes user evidence - evidence from people who have used a route and documentary evidence - copies of historic maps and documents.

Q: Where can I view the definitive map and statement?

A: The Definitive Map is over 50 years old and is rather fragile. The lines from the Definitive Map and any changes that have happened since it was drawn have been transferred onto modern mapping and can be seen here.