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Following the article in last week’s Daily Telegraph by Ian Packer of the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF), Graham Plumbe and Jonathan Cheal were invited by the paper to put the opposing view.

Graham Plumbe is adviser to the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement (Gleam), which founded the Green Lanes Protection Group (GLPG), an alliance of 16 organisations representing more than 350,000 members of groups such as the Ramblers and Friends of the Lake District and the Ridgeway

"Misrepresentation" was Lord Bradshaw's apt word for last week's TRF article at Second Reading (Lords) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (Nerc) Bill on Monday. Nothing in the Bill touches byways with established vehicular rights, and the "antis" have no intention of "going for broke" on all unsurfaced roads.

The new law simply extinguishes an archaic law that allows further vehicular routes to become established based on historic horse and cart use. Driving on routes where rights have never been proved will be stopped. GLPG and the vast majority of the population welcome the Bill.

The original proposals included (a) deferred commencement to cater for human rights problems if property access was removed and (B) exemption of all outstanding claims on commencement to avoid "retrospection". GLPG argued that this would castrate the Bill's purpose.

On Monday we were told by the minister that (a) commencement would be on Royal Assent and (B) only the older claims would be exempted. "So what happened?" asks the TRF.

Just this. GLPG produced leading counsel's opinion that (a) human rights could be met by simple amendments which would avoid the need for deferment, and (B) the Bill is not retrospective. GLPG carried out a detailed survey of claims and handed to the minister photos showing extreme damage to ordinary byways without agricultural use.

We also gave him quotes from the "private" members' area of the TRF website proving that it was two-timing the minister by storing up claims to be dumped in "at the drop of a hat" - quotes that were repeated to the Commons on October 11. The TRF, in short, shot itself in the foot.

TRF's "negotiations" with the minister and Defra were never more than an open door to produce a workable scheme for regulating claims. The only draft was a charade. The Faber Maunsell report was a shoestring survey over less than a year using a trivial number of ineffective vehicle loggers and anecdotal evidence; it is now well out of date and had almost nothing to do with the ways affected by Nerc.

That off-roaders have use of "only five per cent of national trails" is meaningless; if pavements are added to footpaths it would be even less. How many miles does a motorcycle cover per trip compared with a walker? That asphalt roads were horse-and-cart generated is a specious argument; they developed through motoring need, unlike our heritage of green lanes. And what about the environment?

Yes, hooligan off-roading will remain a problem, but clarifying just where rights exist will immeasurably strengthen the ability to enforce the law. An "enforcement circular" from Defra is shortly to be published which hopefully will improve the Traffic Regulation Order regime. That, according to TRF's more pious claims, should be welcomed. GP

Jonathan Cheal is a solicitor in private practice, specialising in public rights of way cases

The article in last Saturday's Motoring section needs a response. It is true the Government is closing a loophole: the hard-pressed farming industry will say that this reform is long overdue, as will many walkers and horseriders.

The TRF article gives a misleading impression. Perhaps the most misleading thing is the suggestion that motorists are being faced with a ban. Rights over existing byways are not going to be banned. The loophole that is being closed will prevent new byway claims being made after a cut-off date.

Off-roaders have been claiming as a public right what is really only a minority sport, and are invoking the existence of ancient ways (which may or may not have been public vehicular ways) for that purpose. They object to the suggestion that these byway claims are new claims, and describe as "absolute nonsense" the implication that "new vehicular routes are being created".

In fact, the way in which byway claims have been made and processed is such that some ways have been put on the Definitive Map as Byways Open to All Traffic (Boats) which never should have been. There are many reasons for this, for example the questionable balancing exercise by which new claims are decided.

Claims based on historical archive research are bound to be based to a greater or lesser extent on conjecture, and require a lot of detailed research and argument. Getting the required level of professional help in doing this is an expensive exercise, out of reach of many farmers.

The TRF's invocation of disabled access is bizarre. In fact, a major and very beneficial outlet for disabled people is horseriding, but this is often directly challenged and jeopardised by the competing use of mechanically propelled vehicles in a confined space.

The argument about these proposed new laws harming private rights of way is also unsustainable. Private rights of way are a separate discipline, and are attached to the ownership and occupation of property as opposed to a public right of way which exists independently of property.

This law reform is aimed at public vehicular rights of way only. The Defra proposals are in the Lords at present and it remains to be seen what the details of the reform will be.

In my experience as a solicitor representing farming and landowning clients, this law reform (and it is law reform) is to be welcomed. JC

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