Disputes surrounding public rights of way will be nothing new to land owners and to those with a keen interest in the countryside. In a case recently decided in the High Court the categorisation of a public highway has again come under close scrutiny following a challenge from a motorcycle group known as the Trail Riders Fellowship.
Bradley Lane in Derbyshire was first recorded in 1627 as a way between the villages of Pilsley and Hassop. In June 2014 the route was designated by an Inspector as a bridleway which, significantly for the Fellowship, prevented their current use of the Lane as a route for motorcycles.
In considering the appeal, the High Court stated that its role was to examine the decision making process and not its factual merits. In doing so the Court placed a heavy reliance on the Inspector’s report and the fact that the Inspector had, in their view, evaluated all the evidence before making a decision.
The Court also commented on the Inspector’s evaluation of the meaning of a “Lane” which had been considered previously by the courts in Fortune v Wiltshire County Council to mean “a minor road leading between one major road and another”. The Inspector, in his report, had stated that the description of the route as a “Lane” was not supportive of the route being a particular class of highway but instead, the facts needed to be considered as a whole. The Court agreed that the reasoning of the Inspector was entirely consistent with the Fortune case and, on reviewing all the evidence before it, concluded that the idea that the route was open to vehicular traffic was “an impossible submission”. It therefore rejected the Fellowship’s appeal.
The case illustrates the effects of a designation of a public right of way and highlights that, provided there is an adequate evaluation of all the evidence, the grounds for appeal are limited. The case should also provide some comfort to those interested in the use of the countryside by the public and certainly to those who enjoy a quiet walk too!