Practical Audit Techniques
For information on the BVPI survey technique go to Performance Indicators (BVPI)
The are many kinds of audits which have relevance to rights of way. These include :
- Condition Surveys
- Accessibility Audits
- Monitoring Use
- Network Assessments which include evaluating the wider network.
Assessing the adequacy of the existing path network
The text below describes how the ROWIP demonstration authorities handled assessing the adequacy of their networks.
Determining how to assess the existing path network was a problem for all of the demonstration authorities and a number of different methods were tried, including developing statistical analyses to measure its adequacy and likely degree of latent demand. Although these more formal methods had some advantages as outlined in section 4 below, they were generally found to be too complicated, relied too much on hypothetical criteria and assessed the network in unnecessary detail.
For most authorities, a better and more practical approach was for the improvement plan officer, together with colleagues who knew the path network in detail, to make a manual assessment. However, to do this it is necessary to first prepare an aggregated access map (as described in section 1 below) showing the network in its wider context map and which can form the basis of the assessment. Authorities are also encouraged to consider undertaking a whole network analysis (WNA) for at least those parts of their area which mainly comprise, or are or close to, residential areas and which are likely to be subject to the greatest access pressures.
Preparing an aggregate access map
The preparation of an aggregate access map should be seen as a key stage in the ROWIP process, enabling the network of rights of way as recorded on the definitive map to be seen in context together with all the other access routes, open land, key attractions and landscape features of the area. The map can, if necessary, be built-up manually but it is better if it can be developed as a series of layers using GIS. The value of the map, both in developing an understanding to inform the ROWIP and in subsequently helping to determine working priorities and manage the network, is such that it could be the justification for securing or upgrading a GIS.
In addition to the existing, recorded rights of way, the features that should be shown on the aggregate map include:
- Cycle tracks, canal tow paths and permissive paths (eg on former railway lines);
- Paths and tracks which are the subject of applications to be added to the definitive map and other potential lost ways known to the authority. (An alternative might be to show those areas where the definitive map is known to be substantially incomplete.);
- National Trails and regionally and locally promoted walking, riding and cycling routes;
- Routes which have been developed for, or are suitable for use by, those with restricted mobility;
- Minor highways and other lightly trafficked roads that may be suitable for recreational use;
- Commons, open spaces and other land to which the public have a right of access;
- Country parks and picnic sites;
- Forestry Commission woodland, National Trust land and land in countryside stewardship;
- Viewpoints, significant ancient monuments and other key landscape features and recreational attractions;
- AONBs and other landscape designations;
- Regular bus routes and other public transport link;
- Car parking areas which serve the rights of way network, including parking areas for horseboxes.
As well as the paths shown on the definitive map, the base layer should show the main urban and residential areas, key topographical features, motorways, other main roads and main railway lines in the area especially where these have the effect of fragmenting the rights of way network into segments.
Information about the demographic profile and pattern of predominant agricultural land use will also be valuable, the former because it will helps identity areas where there may be high concentrations of elderly people or people with restricted mobility, the latter because land use has a major influence on the character of the path network and may have a direct bearing its overall condition. (However, the demonstration authorities often found that data taken directly from the BVPI condition surveys was of limited value, primarily because the level of detail recorded was insufficient or the sample size too small to give a reliable overall picture).
To avoid having to develop all of these layers from scratch it is worthwhile asking other departments and other organisations whether they have any relevant records in electronic format which could be imported. As with other aspects of the information gathering process, however, the aggregate access map should be seen as on-going rather than a one-off exercise.
Using the map to assess the network in practice
The experience of the demonstration authorities is that, rather than trying to identify every single shortfall or anomaly, the aim should be look generically at what kind of access is available, where demand is primarily concentrated and at the overall strengths, weaknesses and opportunities presented by the path network. By setting the network in its wider context, however, the aggregate map enables a much more thorough and more rounded assessment to be made than would otherwise be the case.
Authorities often saw the assessment as an on-going and evolving process, rather than a single, one-off exercise. However, it is helpful if the assessment can be written up at some stage in a concise report which can then be circulated amongst colleagues, the LAF and local user groups for comments. At a minimum, the assessment should be recorded in a series of notes which can be referred to in developing the ROWIP and can also be archived so as to assist in monitoring the long-term impact of the ROWIP.
Relating the network assessment to the authority's understanding of use and demand
A significant additional benefit to arise for some authorities from preparing an aggregate access map was the added insight which it gave to the authority's understanding of how people relate to and use the path network in the area in the way that they do.
Taking account of the findings of the authority's assessment of use and demand, what had been learnt from focus groups or other surveys and the views put forward by path user groups, whilst assessing the existing network using the aggregate access map was particularly illuminating. At one level, this immediately put the survey findings and other views expressed into context, helping to assess the legitimacy (or otherwise) of what had been said and evaluate the relative merits of competing claims. At another, it gave a far deeper insight than would otherwise have been possible into how the network was perceived, and used in practice by, different users for a wide range of journey purposes. Again this helped the authorities to make sense of a plethora of information, often setting the agenda for their draft improvement plans and ultimately helping to decide which improvements would achieve the greatest benefits.
Other approaches: Statistical analysis
Rather than adopting the generic approach set out above in section 2, two of the demonstration authorities, the City of York and Nottinghamshire CC, tried developing a more structured, statistical methodology that could be used to assess their existing path networks. In theory this should have several advantages over the more subjective approach described above. By following set criteria, for example, it should provide a more objective way of comparing the network in different parts of the authority's area. It should also allow different people to work on the assessment at different times without being unduly influenced by their individual prejudices and, similarly, allow the assessment to be repeated using the same criteria in future years thereby enabling the impact of the ROWIP to be objectively monitored.
In practice, however, both methods (which are described below) proved to be time consuming and somewhat cumbersome. They also analysed the network in more detail that was necessary for the purpose of the ROWIP and led to findings which, while statistically valid, tended to be somewhat spurious or esoteric. The York method was also relevant only to specific types of area (those which were within five kilometres of the urban fringe or the edge of a settlement) and the findings were heavily dependent on the underlying assumptions that had to be made about what was the optimum level of provision for each type of path users. The experiences of these two authorities suggest that for most authorities the adoption of some form of statistical analysis is likely to be both impractical and over-complicated.
This is not to say that this kind of approach has no role in the ROWIP process or in assessing and developing the path network in general, or that it would not merit further development. There may be value in carrying out a detailed statistical assessment of parts of an authority's area, for example, especially when this is done in conjunction with a WNA survey as described above. Similarly, statistical analysis may be relevant to a unitary authority whose path network is predominantly in the urban fringe. But trials carried out in the demonstration programme suggest that findings from any such assessment must always be used with caution and should be just one of a number of factors which are taken into account.
City of York Council's approach
The City of York Council chose to develop and implement the hypothetical model for assessing the adequacy of the existing path network put forward by Entec in an earlier (2000) study for the Countryside Agency. The approach, which is summarised in Part 3 of Use and Demand for Rights of Way is based on the fact that the great majority of recreational trips take place within a short distance of where people live.
It involved first identifying and mapping all the rights of way, other linear access routes and access land within 5 km of the urban boundary. A series of standards and operating rules are then defined for each type of path users, with the adequacy of the network within this hinterland being assessed by measuring the extend to which the network meets the operating criteria in relation to the likely demand from each type of path user. The assessment produces both a numeric value (the proportion of the population with a particular standard of provision for each type of use) and mapped data.
The Council's ROWIP officer used the opportunity of inserting a series of questions into the authority's regular "Talk About" survey to collect data which she then used to determine the standards and operating criteria. She also carried out a separate survey of horse riders to identify the criteria to be used to assess the level of bridleway provision and to identify the location of the main livery yards. The findings from these surveys, the operating criteria that were then developed and the way the subsequent assessment was taken into account in preparing the draft Exemplar Rights of Way Improvement Plan are all described in the draft improvement plan.
Nottinghamshire CC's approach
Nottinghamshire CC also considered applying the Entec methodology but found that, because of the relative urban character of the Greeenwood/Sherwood improvement plan area, it would mean undertaking a detailed assessment of virtually the whole area. As this was not thought to be viable with either the resources or time available, the County asked the consultants undertaking one of their research studies to develop an alternative method which could be applied in practice in preparing the pilot ROWIP for the area. The method involves the development of a Countryside Accessibility Index calculated for each 1x1 km grid square using four indicators - the density of the network, its connectivity, the availability of other public access resources and the latent demand for additional access - together with a number of local weighting factors.
Consultation on the use and demand and network assessment findings
The Defra guidance on improvement plans suggests that, before finalising its assessment, the authority may find it helpful to seek views on the information it has gathered and that this may be useful in identifying any omissions or addressing any problems at an early stage.
All of the demonstration authorities discussed their assessment findings with their LAF and some also did so with a limited circle of "family and friends", primarily the local user groups, interested bodies such as the Countryside Agency and other neighbouring authorities. But only Bedfordshire chose to go out to wider consultation, albeit for somewhat different reasons. Those that did not thought that it would be unnecessary (especially where the authority had already undertaken wide initial consultations) or were concerned about the problem of "consultation overload" that could arise when the draft plan was also put out to consultation.
See Monitoring Use for more information.