Evaluating Existing Networks
Improving Paths by Reducing Uncertainty
What is meant by improvement?
Despite all the guidance available, it is still not very clear exactly what is meant by the term "improvement" in relation to public rights of way. Community consultation may give an idea of what the public would like to see in a particular area, but this can only be achieved by making physical changes, which means that you have to work with the constraints inherent in the network as recorded on the definitive map and as currently maintained.
One extreme approach to improvement might lie in changing the arrangement of paths by diversion and extinguishment. Another might be to try to make the most of the existing network by identifying features that cause uncertainty for people to use it and then seeking to address these. In practice, a combination of the two approaches is likely.
This document assessing limitations to the row network outlines a possible approach to reducing the uncertainty felt by users of the network.
The method presents a simple desk based approach which can be taken to assess the availability of rights of way in a defined area, in this case a 10km x 10km square.The approach is not intended to be scientifically or statistically valid, but rather to present a relatively quick and simple check which in some cases can be done by one person.
The Entec methodology for assessing network adequacy
In 2000 the Countryside Agency contracted Entec to develop a simple and cost-effective method which Highway Authorities could use to assess the adequacy of their public rights of way network.
Building upon the findings from a series of focus groups and the household survey results, the requirements of different users pointed to a method that defined a series of basic standards that must be met by the local network for it to be considered adequate.
Standards are included for provision for activity on foot, on bike, on horse back and for off-road motorsport, as well as for those with mobility restrictions. Standards encompass different participants' requirements for route distances and the need for hard surfaced routes for some activities and user groups. A recognition that many participants want to go to a particular feature or in an area of particular appeal is incorporated within some of the standards which assess the extent to which opportunities are available to get to desirable features.
The basic standards are:
- On foot short local provision: starting within 500 metres of residence, routes of 1.5 to 3km;
- On foot longer local provision: starting within 5km of population area edge, routes of 4 to 10km with public transport or car park provision and maximum 20% on public roads all lower than class 'C';
- On foot desirable feature provision: within 5km of population area edge, routes to features or through desirable areas at least 1km in length, representing at least 20% of length if linear features;
- On bicycle short local off road provision: within 1km of residence, hard surfaced routes of 2 to 5 km;
- On bicycle longer local off-road provision: within 5 km of population edge, routes of 6 to 15km with public transport (capable of bicycle carriage) or car park provision and maximum 20% on public roads all lower than 'B' classification
- On bicycle desirable feature provision: within 5km of population area edge, routes to features or through desirable areas at least 1km in length, representing at least 20% of length if linear features;
- Off-road horseriding: routes of 3 to 10km starting at stables / livery yards with 5 or more horses and maximum 20% on public roads all lower than 'C', area access contributes to route total;
- Off-road motorsports: A comparison of need relative to route availability undertaken at a county level, routes to comprise at least 10km off-road which can be made up from several shorter sections provided that no more than 10 km total travel required on public road;
- Restricted mobility short local provision: within 0.5 km of residence, hard surfaced routes of 1.5 to 3 km;
- Restricted mobility desirable feature provision: within 5km of population area edge, car parking provision with access to route, hard surfaced routes to features or through desirable areas at least 1km in length, representing at least 20% of length if linear features.
The method for assessing the provision against these standards is summarised in the flow chart (see the final report attached below). This recognises the important role of local consultation and participation in determining the provision that is needed to meet local needs. It includes an initial stage to consider whether the proposed basic standards are appropriate for the particular local circumstances and needs. The method also recognises the importance of a feedback process to allow for regular review of provision against changing local needs and to feedback into any review of the basic standards that have been proposed.
A number of authorities have used a modified version of this method (eg York). However some have found it difficult to apply as not all areas have the spread of settlements the model requires. Other approaches have been tried by other authorities.
Lancashire County Council Access Audit
Lancashire County Council carried out a full Access Audit to assess the adequacy of the county's rights of way network.
The assessment concentrated on:
- The extent to which a choice of routes and networks is potentially available to each class of rights of way user.
- Those areas which are deficient in rights of way for all or particular groups.
- Any obvious inconsistencies or anomalies in relation to individual rights of way that need to be rectified (including an assessment of outstanding S. 53 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 claims).
- Any other opportunities which may exist to improve the path network and that are immediately apparent.
- A preliminary assessment of the extent to which rights of way are potentially available to those who are disabled or have restricted mobility.
- Progress on the digitisation of the Definitive Map and Statements and the availability of the information to District and Parish Councils, user groups and members of the public.
The overall assessment also took into account the condition of the path network. For more information go to Lancashire's website.
DEFRA encourages authorities to consider making improvements to the network by all possible means, including through use of Permissive Routes, and by looking at how the network fits with other access provision - the wider network approach (for more information see Evaluating the Wider Network)
Other techniques for assessing the path network can be found in Practical Audit Techniques