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The Government’s implementation of the 2031 cut-off date

A reaction from Mark Weston, BHS Director of Access

On Wednesday 25 October 2023 the Government implemented the 2026 cut-off date (SI 2023/1121).

On Thursday 26 October a Statutory Instrument to extend the cut-off date to 1 January 2031 was laid in Parliament – this means that as of Friday 17 November, the deadline to formally record historic routes will be extended to 2031 unless it’s annulled.

Continuing with the extended cut-off date without implementing the exceptions regulations is a smack in the face for the voluntary sector, which has been working so hard to make sure that unrecorded historical routes are preserved, not only for this generation but for future generations as well. This will cause uncertainty and impose greater burdens on local authorities and the voluntary sector.

The exceptions regulations were intended to provide certainty as to which routes were to be excluded from the cut-off date, so applications wouldn’t need to be made for those routes before the cut-off date. The regulations were going to exempt routes that are on a local authority’s list of streets, routes in urban areas, unrecorded and under-recorded widths, and unrecorded routes in frequent use.

By refusing to implement the exceptions regulations simultaneously with the cut-off date, the voluntary sector will now have to apply to record routes that may later be the subject of those regulations. The voluntary sector cannot be certain whether those regulations will ever be implemented - especially given the government’s previous U-turns regarding the cut-off date.

It also demonstrates this Government’s apparent disregard for people being able to access nature. The Government has stated that it wants everyone to be able to access green space within a 15-minute walk - by implementing the cut-off date, this will deny people of many routes that they could have used to access green space.

The Government’s decision to not include the exception on rights of way in regular use before the cut-off date is equally disturbing. This exception was clearly set out in the Stepping Forward Report as being required if the cut-off date was implemented.

It’s unrealistic to expect the voluntary sector to make applications for all of these routes before 2031. This will inevitably lead to the loss of many routes to local communities which are currently being used.

We have asked the Government whether it will be providing the voluntary sector with the necessary funding to make sure that these routes are applied for, and to let us know when they expect the exception regulations to be laid.