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Off-Road Campaign Group Triumphs in ‘Green Lanes’ Dispute

Country pathIn an important ruling for landowners and countryside campaigners, motorcyclists and off-road vehicle enthusiasts have scored a major success in their fight to open up five Dorset ‘green lanes’ to motorised traffic. The Court of Appeal ruled that Dorset County Council had not been justified in refusing to consider applications for amendments to be made to the county’s definitive map on the basis that they were not accompanied by maps drawn to the requisite 1:25,000 scale.

The lanes are currently the preserve of walkers and equestrians but the council received applications in 2004 for them to be reclassified as byways open to all traffic. The applications were kept under consideration for more than five years before being rejected by the council’s rights of way committee in 2010.

That was on the basis that the applications were not accompanied by illustrative maps drawn to a scale of at least 1:25,000 as required by schedule 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The maps submitted were 1:50,000 ordnance survey maps which had been blown up to the requisite scale using computer software.

National countryside access pressure group, the Trail Riders Fellowship TRF), had its judicial review challenge to the council’s decision dismissed at first instance, but has now triumphed at the Court of Appeal.  The ruling means that the council must now fully consider the applications according to law almost a decade after they were first submitted.

Ruling that there was ‘no good reason’ to support the council’s narrow interpretation of the statute, the court noted that there is no requirement that maps submitted by applicants have to be ordnance survey maps. The word ‘drawn’ within schedule 14 was never intended to be construed as being confined to ‘originally drawn’ and was more sensibly interpreted as synonymous with ‘produced’ or ‘reproduced’.

There was no requirement that the blown-up maps had to depict all the features that would have appeared on 1:250,000 maps and the court had no difficulty in accepting TRF’s arguments that the computer and printer used to produce the maps submitted were operating at human command and could be said to have ‘drawn’ them.

The court concluded: “A map which is produced to a scale of 1:250,000, even if it is digitally derived from an original map with a scale of 1:50,000, satisfies the requirements of paragraph 1(a) of schedule 14 provided that it is ‘a map’ and that it shows the way or ways to which the application relates.”