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Equestrians - Improve your rights of way by getting involved

17 Jan 2020

The British Horse Society works tirelessly to protect, improve and create safe off-road routes for equestrians, but we can’t do it all alone! Town and country planning in the UK can have a significant impact on equestrians, but a little understanding of the planning application process, and knowing where to go for help will do a great deal to ensure you can influence decisions.

In order to protect and enhance equestrian access and safety, it is vital that you are aware and involved in the planning process from the very outset; to learn more about the planning process, read our advice note

Many people contact us in despair that they have no off-road routes in their area; getting the provision of equestrian access provided for in development plans is crucial, and often one of your only options for securing improvements for road safety as well as the provision of new routes. Speak to the developers and planners as early as possible and ask for existing paths to be upgraded or for equestrians to be included on the routes that are being provided for walkers and cyclists and for equestrian provision in road schemes, e.g. at light-controlled crossings.

Our top tips

  • The phrase ‘strength in numbers’ applies – the more people who speak up for equestrian involvement, the more we will be heard
  • Be polite but persistent – demanding is likely to put up the backs of those who might be willing to help
  • Explain WHY equestrians need off road access – reference our safety, health and economic statistics
  • Involve your parish, if you can, and your local councillor
  • Use their language! This is the tricky bit as ideally you need to tell them why their agendas should include equestrians (for example, for health and wellbeing, social and environmental reasons, etc.)
  • Offer alternatives rather than refusal; the pressure is on planners to approve so find a way for them to enable cycling and walking without excluding equestrians (e.g. amending the widths or surface or just being legally inclusive)
  • Liaise with your local BHS Access Officer, Rambler representative and Cycling UK representative to be sure that you are supporting each other

Planning applications – where to start?

1. Planning authorities list planning applications for development on their website. Check it regularly for your area. You may be able to register for email alerts but may receive a lot if urban. Be sure you are looking for the right website: is your area covered by one council that does everything from rubbish collection to schools, or two – district and county? If two, the district or borough council will be the planning authority for most developments, but the county council are responsible for determining waste, mineral and highway applications.

2. When you see a relevant application, it will have lots of associated documents. Look first for the location plan to be sure where it is then any other document labelled ‘plan’. Check the site plan against the county council’s Definitive Map for any rights of way affected, close by as well as on the site – increased traffic from the development may make roads difficult to cross or ride or carriage drive along. Think of any routes which are used but are not on the Definitive Map, and ones which would be ideal!

3. Look for the Design and Access statement and check what it says about equestrian access. The easiest way is to search it using keywords like walk, pedestrian, cycle, cycling, horse. Are existing routes accommodated? Any new routes proposed? Any proposals for cycling or walking only routes which would be useful to equestrians? Are there any extinguishments proposed? The latter may be disguised as being incorporated into footways of new roads.

4. Check the county council’s rights of way team has had input and that you agree with what they have said. If not, contact them and perhaps agree that you will both copy responses on the application to each other where appropriate.

5. The planning application will also show responses from other people. See what they say. They may contain comments that you wish to counter in your own response. If they are from the parish council or a user group, consider contacting them to agree support or to find out more about anything they say with which you disagree.

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