Off-roaders will be heartbroken. Show most people a stretch of countryside with a track, and they envisage a place to walk, to ride, to be enjoyed in peace. Show a ‘petrol-head’ that same track, and they see somewhere to blast a scrambler or a quad bike. For a time, it looked as if the Government was on their side.
New regulations in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which came into force on May 2, will stop further encroachment from off-roaders. Given the legal presumption that ‘once a highway, always a highway’, if an ancient route could be found on a map or in old deeds, then the local authority must add it to the district map. It followed that, as ‘vehicles’ had once used it, they should continue to use it. It was irrelevant, the argument went, that the horse-drawn cart had been replaced by the 4×4. No longer.
The Act introduces a new category of right of way, a ‘restricted byway’, which will be entered on the map and must be used in a way consistent with its history in other words, no motorised vehicles.
Previously, unregistered scramblers and quads did not fall under the definition of ‘motor vehicles’ and could escape prosecution. This loophole has now been closed. Moreover, the prosecution used to have to prove there were no vehicular rights now it is for the defendant to prove that he has the right to drive there. Things have got tougher for the off-roading community.
However, many landowners and farmers rely on unrecorded vehicular rights of way to access land. S.67 states that if a public right of way for mechanically propelled vehicles is extinguished by the Act, then they will be provided with a private right of way. Landowners are advised to take advice if in doubt.