Definitive Map and Statement

October 19th, 2009  |  Published in Information

The Definitive Map and Statement was introduced by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 as a statutory record for ‘public footpaths’ (footpaths and bridleways) and ‘roads used as public paths’ (RUPPs). When a way is shown in the Definitive Map then its existence as a public right of way is conclusive. The Definitive Map can be amended so that ways shown therein can be changed to another status, or removed, or additional ways can be added. There is a statutory process for all these changes and any such change requires evidence to support it.
It is difficult to prove that a right of way shown on the Definitive Map should not be shown at all (i.e. is not a public right of way). The Definitive Map and Statement is kept and maintained by the ‘Surveying Authority’ for the area.   This is normally the Highway Authority, e.g. the county or unitary council, but may also be a National Park Authority.   For reasons that applied in 1949, some areas (e.g. London boroughs, county boroughs and built-up areas within counties) were excluded from the requirement to make and keep up to date a Definitive Map; later legislation requires that Definitive Maps be made for formerly excluded areas (except in some parts of London), but in many previously excluded areas Definitive Maps have not yet been completed (or in some case even commenced).
The original Definitive Maps and Statements were made according to a procedure set down by the 1949 Act.   This involved comprehensive on-the-ground surveys, usually by volunteers (e.g. members of the Open Spaces Society or the Ramblers’ Association), or parish councils.   An advisory memorandum on how to survey and record was made by the Open Spaces Society and issued under the auspices of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.   The data collected was made into ‘draft maps’, which were then made available for inspection by the general public, who could lodge notice of objection and correction.   The surveying authority would then appoint a suitable person to hear these representations and then make a determination of the issue.   Any person aggrieved by this determination could make a further representation to the Secretary of State, who would appoint a further person to hear the appellant after which, the Secretary of State would decide the issue.
This making public of the draft maps served to fix a ‘relevant date’ for each definitive map.   The relevant date relates to the legally conclusive nature of the Definitive Map and in effect means that the right of way shown on the Definitive Map legally existed at that date.    Once the public phase of the draft maps had taken place, a ‘provisional map and statement’ was made.   This was open to much less review and revision than the draft map; the public were not able to influence this part of the process.  Essentially only owners, occupiers and landowners could go to the Crown Court to dispute only a limited number of issues about ways across their land.    Once the statutory time periods for recourse to the Crown Court had expired, the provisional map became conclusive of the status of the ways shown in it (including any limitations in the statement) at the relevant date.   The only form of challenge now open was to the High Court on a point of law or procedural defect.   Once this 6-week period had passed the Definitive Map and Statement became legally conclusive evidence of the existence of a right of way shown on it at the relevant date.
Since the 1949 Act there have been a number of changes to the system for reviewing (and where necessary creating) Definitive Maps and Statements.   The present law is contained in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
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