Find out about existing plans and forums
Every local highway authority outside inner cities is required to draw up a Rights of Way Improvement Plan (RoWIP), which are gradually being intergrated into Local Transport Plans, and run a local access forum, which brings together relevant organisations. These are both good places to start and your local authority should have more information.
The problem with RoWIPs is that there is no duty to fund or implement them. In any event, many RoWIPs set out general policies such as improving routes to public transport or removing obstructions, rather than setting out any specific proposals to improve PRoWs in your local area.
Natural England - Local Access Forums
Getting the most out of what you’ve got
Assessing and categorising
It's worth starting off by assessing the suitability of the network of routes in your area for different types of user, such as walking, cycling, horse riding. Don't forget people with disabilities, not just those in wheelchairs but also people who have walking difficulties, for example getting over stiles. While rights of way may form much of this network, it is likely to include roads too, so it is worth thinking about road networks at the same time - see the shaping routes and networks section for more information.
See if you can identify missing links that would enable creation of circular leisure routes or indeed safe routes to schools, shops etc. You may want to identify a core network of routes for leisure as well as for everyday journeys, such as to school, shops or a station, on which maintenance is prioritised as well as resources such as for improvements to surfaces.
The mapping your area shows you how to add information into OpenStreetMap. While you’re not going to be able to map everything, this can be a really useful way to record issues with surfaces or bad stiles on the key routes, so that you can easily obtain a visual overview. You can also record permissive routes, which people might not otherwise find out about.
Lost ways, 'white roads' and permissive access
The status of some routes may be unclear. Ordnance Survey maps often show 'white roads', which may be private, and Other Routes with Public Access on which the rights of way are unclear. There may also be 'lost ways', on which there is a right of way that has not been recorded properly. While resolving rights may take time, if you present enough evidence to your local authority, they may look into it.
See if you can
Effectively the Highway Authority is responsible for all ground level maintenance and the landowner for anything overhanging. However, under the terms of HA1980 S43 Parish Councils have absolutely independent powers to maintain their own PROWs. There is no need to obtain prior consent from the Highways Authority to carry out any such works. It is, however, appropriate when using volunteers or contractors that risk assessment or method statements, should be prepared and that prior landowner permission is obtained. Also, you must have adequate Public liability insurance.
Barriers and illegal obstructions
Least restrictive access
Fieldfare Trust - promoting countryside access for disabled people
Obstructions & abuse of BOATs - s34 RTA 1988
ploughing and cropping
If you believe the council has failed to act appropriately, consider taking action under section 130A of the Highways Act 1980. This allows you to serve notice on the highway authority (county council) requiring it to secure the removal of certain classes of obstruction. If a highway authority still fails to take steps to remove the obstruction you can apply to the Magistrates Court for an Order requiring the highway authority to remove it.
If you believe a right of way is ‘out of repair’, you can issue a Notice on the Highway Authority under section 56 of the Act. This requires the council to admit whether the way is a highway and whether it is liable to maintain it. You then have six months to apply to a Magistrates Court which will decide whether the highway is out of repair. If the court agrees with you, it will stipulate a time within which the repairs should be completed by the council. If those repairs arenot carried out, the court can authorise you to organise the work and recover the expenses from the highway authority.
Upgrading and creating new routes
Particular needs: around new developments to link them into the countryside, for cycling and riding.
Protecting the character of the countryside is important. Particularly on routes with leisure usage, it’s important to make them attractive rather than feel like they look like an suburban road. Using natural coloured surfacing whether buff tarmac or a locally sourced material rather than standard black tarmac is key. It may be that a substantial change in surfacing is unavoidable on a route section that is frequently muddy but that does not mean the whole route has to be changed in the same way.
Minimising signing and lining is important too: try to use local signs, keep sizes small and mounting signs on short wood posts rather than standard metal poles. Wayfinding is important - see if you can combine signs, so rather than just saying ‘Public Bridleway’, add a destination and distance.
Routes along roads and cycle tracks
Sustrans - route design resources
As of right or by permission?
Parish Councils have their own powers to enter into an agreement with any landowner who wishes to dedicate a path as a public right of way (HA 1980 S30). The only difference between this and other PROWs is that normally the Highway Authority will not take on the maintenance responsibility.
Bridges and crossing roads