RIGHTS OF WAY

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Libby Martin is a resident of High Barnet, and also Footpath Secretary for the Ramblers in London Borough of Barnet.

The Finchley Society invited Libby to a committee meeting as they are interested in recording historic footpaths on the Definitive Map of Rights of Way. This will give the paths greater protection under Rights of Way legislation so that they cannot lightly be stopped up for developments or security reasons. Many historic urban routes such as Lovers Walk in Finchley are not recorded as Rights of Way. There is now a deadline of 31st December 2025 for claims using historical evidence, so it makes sense to get going on this while it can still be easily done.

We are already identifying routes in the Finchley area that are candidates to be made Rights of Way, and are looking at archive material to collect historical evidence. We would like to make an initial approach to Barnet Council to discuss our plans before making applications to change the Definitive Map.

The Finchley Society asked Libby to contact other groups in the Borough who could well have similar concerns. We would like to get together with representatives of other groups to decide the best joint approach.

  • Could someone from Woodside Park RA come along to a preliminary meeting to find out what is involved and exchange ideas?
  • Does anyone in your group with specific interests in walking or rights of way who would be interested in identifying routes that should be recorded?

If anyone is interested in Rights of Way and would like to take this further, please contact us.

Below are  some explanatory notes below if you are new to Rights of Way.

 

What is a “Right of Way”?

A “Right of Way” is a route that has protection under legislation that has developed since the late 1940s. It is recorded on a “Definitive Map” held by the highway authority. It can’t be obstructed and it must be maintained in a usable state.  It can be changed, closed or rerouted – but there must be public consultation before this happens. Rights of Way are therefore less easy to close up for trivial reasons. They are also shown on OS maps as dashed lines (red on OS Landranger 1:50,000 and green on OS Explorer 1:25,000 maps), which make them easier to see on a map if you are wanting to explore on foot.

How do Rights of Way get recorded?

In the 1950s, local parishes went through a process to record all the routes with public access onto the Definitive Map – footpaths, bridleways, and other routes with higher rights that had not by then been adopted by the Highway Authority as roads. Since then, Rights of Way get on the Definitive Map in one of two ways:

  • There may have been a historic right, but it has not yet been recorded on the Definitive Map.
  • People have used the route for 20 years or more without anyone objecting, and are prepared to witness that.

The first method – claiming a Right of Way using historic evidence of a route’s existence – is to be discontinued on 1st January 2026. The Ramblers and other organisations involved with the protection of Rights of Way are concerned about the cut-off date. Up to that date, where there is historical evidence of a route that exists but has not yet been recorded, we can submit applications for modifications to the Definitive Map to add the route. The cut-off date is creating a sense of urgency to check available historical evidence and submit claims for Rights of Way.

What is the position in Barnet?

There was less pressure on London Boroughs to record Rights of Way in the first place. There is a network of Rights of Way in the more rural parts of the Borough, but Barnet did not adopt a general policy of recording urban alleyways on the Definitive Map as Rights of Way. Other local boroughs were more thorough in their recording of urban routes. So you will see more “green dashed” routes on the map in Enfield, for example, than in Barnet. Old alleys such as Lovers Walk and newer recreational routes such as the Dollis Valley Greenwalk do not have Rights of Way status (“green lozenges” on the OS map just mean a “named route”, not “Right of Way”. For RoW, look for the smaller dashes joining the lozenges).

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