THE YORKSHIRE DALES GREEN LANES ALLIANCE
Campaigning to free green lanes from recreational vehicles.
Where the tarmac stops, vehicles should stop.
YDGLA, PO Box 159, Otley, LS21 9BT
Solutions to the Problem
(See the ‘Glossary’ page for definitions of the technical terms used below)
A comprehensive solution to the problem of 4x4s and motorbikes on green lanes is some way off although it is now discernable in the distance. Two developments have brought the solution much closer than we could have dared to dream when YDGLA was founded, in 2002. First came the Natural Environments and Rural Communities Act (NERC), in 2006. The act put a stop to nearly all new claims for Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs), by abolishing the ludicrous, archaic principle of allowing ancient rights for horses and carts to be the justification for turning a green lane into a motor-vehicular route. Additionally, the NERC Act gives National Park authorities their own powers to impose traffic regulation orders (TROs). A TRO, prohibiting recreational motor vehicles, may be imposed on any route if it is judged that the damage and nuisance caused by vehicles outweighs the authority’s obligation to keep the route open to legal users. NERC was, and remains, very good news. But it left a large number of applications made by vehicle users for BOATs intact: the act set a deadline, and, nationally, hundreds of applications beat that deadline. But an important legal case known as ‘The Winchester Judgment’ substantially reduced the alarming number of deadline-beating applications. The Appeal Court judgment ruled that applications, in order to be compliant with the relevant regulations, had to have been made in exact conformity with those regulations eg by the submission of maps drawn to the correct scale, and by the submission of documentary evidence. Many deadline-beating applications made by vehicle users are now being shown, in the light of Winchester, to be defective: they cannot secure the motor vehicular rights that the applicants were hoping for.
When YDGLA was founded, in 2002, we never imagined that so much progress would be made, so quickly. But the public mood in the Dales has turned out to be in harmony with the public mood throughout the country.The public’s mood can be gauged by the response delivered to a poll conducted by ICM Ltd in 2004. A representative sample of the general public were asked to agree or disagree with the following proposition: ‘The use of recreational motor vehicles on rights of way in national parks, and other areas of outstanding natural beauty, should be banned so that people can go there for quiet recreation, and so that the peace and tranquillity of the countryside can be preserved for future generations.’ 87% of respondents agreed, 8% disagreed, and 5% didn’t know. Plainly, Parliament was perfectly in tune with public opinion when it enacted NERC. And the Winchester Judgment has sent hundreds of the applications that NERC missed, into oblivion. What remains to be done?
THE INAPPROPRIATENESS OF RECREATIONAL MOTOR VEHICLES IN THE NATIONAL PARK.
The Dales National Park Authority recognizes that it cannot simply apply a blanket ban on all recreational vehicles on every green lane, right across the national park: it has to consider each green lane, case by case, balancing its legal obligations to keep the lane open to those with legal rights of way, against its primary statutory obligation to protect and enhance the landscapes in its care. In our view, the obligation to protect the landscape trumps the obligation to keep green lanes open to 4x4s and motorbikes. The Park Authority has made an impressive start on the lengthy job of working through the list of green lanes in its care, considering the case for the imposition on each of them of traffic regulation orders (TROs). This has resulted in the welcome imposition of TROs on some of the most vulnerable and beautiful lanes. But the list of vulnerable lanes is by no means exhausted: there are still plenty that need protection. TROs are expensive items, and no extra government money came with the Park Authority’s new TRO-making powers. Furthermore, although TROs are supported and welcomed by the general public, they are usually contested by vehicle user groups: the legal niceties have to be scrupulously observed.
In the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Authority has no powers to make its own TROs. The powers still lie with North Yorkshire County Council. NYCC must be encouraged and persuaded to protect the green lanes in the AONB by imposing TROs on them, starting with the most damaged.
Among the BOAT applications that were initially thought to have escaped the cut-off date of 20 January 2005 imposed by the NERC Act, were applications for motor status on some of the most beautiful routes in the Dales - Foxup Road, and Arncliffe Cote, for example. However, the ‘Winchester judgment’ has established that the BOAT applications in the Dales are not compliant with the regulations. This means that the applications cannot secure what the applicants want. Public rights for motor vehicles cannot now be established on these precious green lanes.
THE CONTINUING PROBLEM OF UUCRS.
Unsurfaced Unclassified County Roads (UUCRs) were excluded from NERC. These routes include some of the finest green lanes in the Dales (eg Deadman’s Hill in Nidderdale) , yet their rights-of-way status is contested. Vehicle user groups assert that, by definition, UUCRs bear rights for motor vehicles. DEFRA’s legal team, by contrast, insist that the rights of way on UUCRs must be established, case by case. The process of finally clarifying the rights of way status of each and every UUCR will take years, years during which 4x4 and motorbike users will take advantage of these lanes’ uncertain status, and will inflict the now well-understood damage and nuisance: unless, that is, traffic regulation orders are imposed on these routes. Both the National Park Authority and North Yorkshire County Council have made a start in this direction. They must be encouraged to go further, stopping only when the systematic imposition of TROs has made the whole network of UUCRs out of bounds to recreational motor vehicles.
THE PROBLEM OF POLICING.
Green lanes must be effectively policed. Naturally enough, at present, a hard-pressed police force sets a rather low priority on catching illegal 4x4 and motorcycle users. But things are changing. The weight of complaints from the public to the Park and AONB authorities, and to the police, steadily increases. The police are responding. Prosecutions for riding and driving on routes that have no vehicular rights, for using vehicles that are not road-worthy, and for riding and driving dangerously are beginning to be levelled. The vehicles of persistent offenders may be confiscated and even crushed. The police have already held two days of action in the National Park, designed to raise the profile of law enforcement, and there have been a number of successful prosecutions. The NERC Act will make the police’s job somewhat easier: it will clarify which routes are legal, and which are not.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH
Numbers of decisions about the final status of those green lanes that are still used by vehicle users turn on evidence of the routes’ historic status. YDGLA conducts historical research into the provenance of routes. The purpose of this research is to establish whether any particular route has historic vehicular rights. Wherever we can show that the route was never open to horses and carts, we can circumvent attempts to establish it as a modern motor route. For example, we have established that, in contradiction to the blanket assertion made by vehicle user groups, at least one particular Dales UUCR was dedicated as a bridleway, and therefore has no historic vehicular rights.
Highway and National Park authorities have their own statutory obligation to investigate the historic provenance of contested routes. Investigations into a single route can take many months, and when the results produce a public enquiry, and then an appeal to the secretary of state, the months turn into years as was the case with Gorbeck Road (see Latest News ). Obviously, YDGLA encourages authorities to deploy resources adequate to the task of establishing the exact status of every green lane in the Dales, but we recognize that, at present, funds will be hard to come by.