Rights of Way Improvement Plans
Highway authorities and outer London Boroughs have a new duty to prepare a Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP) by November 2007. The ROWIP must take into account what the current and likely future needs of the public are, and present proposals for how the authority will improve the network to meet those needs.
Rights of way improvement plans are intended to be a mechanism for improving the local network of public rights of way and other non-motorised routes in light of the needs of all types of user.
The duty to prepare these plans, under Section 60 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, commenced on 21st November 2002; the same date as which Statutory Guidance on preparing ROWIPs was issued by the Secretary of State.
It is a requirement of the legislation that a ROWIP must contain:
- The Highway Authority's assessment of:
- the extent to which local rights of way meet the present and likely future needs of the public
- the opportunities provided by local ROWs for exercise, open air recreation and enjoyment of the area
- the accessibility of local ROWs to those who are blind or partially sighted or who have other mobility problems
- such other matters as Secretary of State may direct.
- A statement of the action the Authority proposes to take:
- for the management of local ROWs
- for securing an improved network of local ROWs
- such other matters as Secretary of State may direct.
The requirement to prepare a ROWIP does not apply to all local authorities - those deemed to be 'excellent' authorities (with a 5 star rating) do not have to prepare a plan. DCLG (Dept for Communities and Local Government) recently extended these freedoms to include 4 star authorities. However despite the flexibility offered by this change research has shown that most authorities still intend to prepare a ROWIP as the authorities recognise the value of the plan in improving services to the public. For more information see the DCLG press release.
Many authorities are making good progress - a number of draft and final ROWIPs have already been published (see Published ROWIPs for a list with links to the plans).
The Countryside Agency has been working with The Access Company to deliver ROWIP support to authorities. This has included :
- A series of advice notes 'signpost guides' to cover key subjects including:
- LTPs and ROWIPs
- LAFs and ROWIPs
- Community Consultation
- Use of existing resources
- ROWIPs in urban areas
- support from managers and councillors
- A survey into progress across the country carried out in autumn 2005 National ROWIP survey results
- A ROWIP 'template' offering a suggested structure for a ROWIP with suggestions of what each chapter could cover How to write an effective ROWIP.
- A national seminar on consultation - notes and presentations from the seminar can be found under Assessment of Need and Demand
- Advice for authorities responsible for National Trails on how the information relating to the Trail can support the ROWIP. This advice has been sent to all National Trail authorities on a CD which incudes all the relevant data sets. If you wish to obtain a copy please contact Natural England.
Much of the advice and examples of good practice on ROWIPs arose from the earlier Countryside Agency ROWIP Demonstration Programme. This project encouraged a small number of authorities to take the brave step of producing a ROWIP which other authorities could learn from. Each of the 'exemplar' authorities was awarded a grant to research into specific areas ofthe ROWIP process. The results of the research are all included listed on Outputs of the ROWIP Exemplar Programme, although some of the draft documents on that page have been replaced by later ones as work has progressed.
Use of Authorities' websites to explain the ROWIP process
Most local authorities are using sections of their websites to promote the ROWIP process. Describing the ROWIP in terms the general public can understand can be difficult. Lincolnshire County Council have a clear explanation of why they are doing a ROWIP and what effect it will have.
Key Lessons from the Demonstration Programme
The rights of way improvement plan should be seen as an on-going process rather than as a one-off exercise. It is about changing the way that the highway authority thinks about - and manages and develops - its path network. And it is about ensuring the importance of rights of way are recognised; that they are dealt with strategically and as part of the corporate culture of the authority, not marginalized as a peripheral activity.
The difficulties and uncertainty that arises in compiling a ROWIP for the first time can be considerably reduced if some of the underlying issues are considered at the outset and provisional decisions taken. The issues include:
- What kind of plan is the ROWIP to be and where will it fit into the corporate hierarchy?
- What is to be the scope of the ROWIP; to what extent is it also going to consider informal countryside recreation or other related issues?
- Is the ROWIP to be focused at the broad, strategic level or go into issues in greater depth?
- What, initially, are the authority's key strategic priorities for its path network thought to be?
- Is the ROWIP to be in the form of a single plan for the whole area, or a series of area plans? If the later, are you also going to prepare an overall master plan?
- It is important to again review these underlying issues immediately prior to staring the process of drafting the ROWIP?
Staffing, Resources and Organisation
Preparing a statutory rights of way improvement plan in accordance with the Secretary of State's guidance is a significant undertaking, requiring a major investment of time and effort.
The task requires both a dedicated member of staff, and the support of a senior officer who is able to oversee the preparation of the ROWIP and champion the plan at the corporate level within the authority.
The dedicated officer must be given clear, overall responsibility for the improvement plan, and sufficient time and resources to focus on the tasks involved. Assuming the post is a full-time one, the officer should be able to devote at least a half of his or her time to the improvement plan.
Key requirements of the ROWIP officer's post are the ability to manage both the process and the very large amount of data the process will generate, to promote the concept of the plan widely and persuade others to take it fully into account in their own agenda. These are more important that the need to have a wide technical or legal knowledge of rights of way.
The officer will need the support of colleagues dealing with the day-to-day aspects of rights of way work, as well as adequate administrative and technical support.
Ideally, the ROWIP officer should be a permanent appointment. If temporary, the post should be for a minimum of three years.
A number of the demonstration authorities have successfully combined the ROWIP officer's post with his/her new duties relating to the Local Access Forum. However it is important to recognise that additional time will also be required for these extra duties.
It is not satisfactory (and may not always be possible) for existing rights of way staff to undertake the substantial work involved in preparing a ROWIP alongside their existing duties and responsibilities.
A dedicated budget is required in order to carry out the necessary research and to prepare and publish the improvement plan. At a minimum, it is likely that research will be needed to assess the current and future scale of use and demand for local rights of way and to enable the authority to apply the findings of national research to the local area. (For more information see ROWIP Funding)
The requirement to prepare a ROWIP poses particular difficulties for those unitary authorities with only a small network of rights of way. The demonstration programme shows, however, that small unitary authorities can successfully prepare ROWIPs. There is also scope for authorities to work together cooperatively and some aspects of the work may also be contracted out.
There are significant advantages in setting up a steering or management group for the improvement plan, chaired by a senior officer, including in developing the necessary network of contacts and in giving the work status within the authority.
Arrangements are needed to deal with the large amounts of information that will arise from the background research and the authority's assessments.
Involvement of the Local Access Forum
(For more information see LAFs)
The Local Access Forum should be involved in the rights of way improvement plan from the outset. However, the forum will need assistance if it is to be able to play a full role in the improvement plan process, including help in developing the ability to think strategically. Time and resources must be allowed for this.
Linking to other plans and strategies
For more information see Consultation
In addition to the Local Transport Plan, a wide range of other plans and strategies have been identified which must be taken into account in the improvement plan and which, in turn, should themselves reflect the provisions in the improvement plan. This integration of the improvement plan with other plans and strategies is likely to be one of the main ways in which the plan can be implemented and has also been shown to confer significant wider benefits, increasing the profile of rights of way work within the authority.
The ROWIP officer should pro-actively identify possible links by seeking out and scanning relevant documents and by approaching the officers concerned to discuss the ROWIP with them. This may need to include approaching other local authorities and relevant outside bodies.
It takes time to build up co-operative working arrangements with the officers concerned, for them to "get up to speed" on the improvement plan and to appreciate the possibilities it may offer. At least a year should be allowed for this.
Background information can be expected to come from a wide variety of sources, both from within the authority itself and externally.
There is potentially so much data that it is easy to get swamped. Setting up an efficient filing system or database will help to avoid this, and ensure the key data and facts can be retrieved later when they are needed.
Data gathering should be seen not as a once-and-for-all exercise but as an on-going process.
Assessing Use and Demand
(For more detail go to Assessment of Need and Demand)
The experience of the demonstration authorities has shown that, no matter how well an authority thinks it understands local use and demand for its path network it is worthwhile carrying out some form of independent assessment.
The two main survey methods are large scale questionnaire surveys, which are valuable for gathering information about the overall scale and nature of use of rights of way network (and about non-users), and focus groups which are valuable in developing a deeper understanding of the needs and aspirations of different types of user. The two methods are often most effective when used in combination.
The use of focus groups was considered by the demonstration authorities to be particularly apposite to the ROWIP evaluation process in helping to understanding the needs of 'ordinary' path users.
Assessing the existing network
(This is covered in more detail in Evaluating Existing Networks)
The best way of assessing the existing network was found to be a manual assessment, carried out by the ROWIP officer and colleagues who know the network well.
To facilitate this assessment, an aggregate map should be prepared showing the rights of way network in context together with all the other access opportunities and relevant features of the area. The preparation of the map should be seen as a key stage in the ROWIP process.
Ideally the aggregate map should be built up as a series of layers using GIS (Geographic Information System). The value of the map is such that it may be the justification for purchasing or upgrading a GIS.
A related research project indicates there may also be considerable value in undertaking a whole network analysis (WNA) where this is possible in key areas. The aim of WNA is to identify, record and survey all the informal access opportunities and other linear routes that exist in the area and which might be coordinated with the path network.
Other statistical methods of assessing the network were tested but found generally to be time consuming, complicated and to look at the network in unnecessary detail. These methods may still be useful in some circumstances, however, and would justify further development.
Developing the Improvement Plan
(This is covered in more detail in Writing a ROWIP part 1)
Before starting the process of developing the improvement plan it is important to again to think through the underlying issues of what kind of plan is the ROWIP to be, where will it fit in the corporate hierarchy, what is to be the scope of the plan and to what depth should it address the issue covered?
While some demonstration authorities found the key issues that needed to be addressed emerged naturally from their assessments and consultations, others were faced with a wide and conflicting range of demands and found it difficult to identify consistent themes or determine a clear way forward.
Ways of resolving these difficulties included setting out the main principles the authority wished to embrace and then looking at how each of these could be achieved at a strategic level; bringing together all of the staff involved to debate the issues and draw out the overall policy objectives; and distilling out the policy objective by progressively whittling down a series drafts.
Determining an overall strategic vision can also help to resolve the difficulties caused by a plethora of information while ensuring that the development of the ROWIP remains focused. If the vision is set at the outset however it should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it continues to match the picture that is emerging from the assessment process.
<lpIn developing the ROWIP it is important to go through a structured, logical sequence that will ensure that the plan derives from, and can be related back to the authority's assessments of use and demand on the one hand and of the existing path network (or wider access provision) on the other. The process should be documents to provide an audit trail and to assist subsequent monitoring.</p>
All of the demonstration authorities concluded that their ROWIPs should be focused at a broad, strategic level. However this should not preclude identifying specific actions where these are essential to one or more of the key objectives.
Policies set out in the ROWIP should be expressed in such as way as to be capable of being easily and objectively monitored, both to check whether they are being achieved and to assess their impact. Whenever possible, performance indicator should be chosen, which measure policy outcomes as, opposed to outputs.
Drafting the ROWIP
See also Writing a ROWIP part 2
It is helpful to consider drafting the ROWIP as a separate process to that of developing the ROWIP itself. Thinking through the exact purpose of the ROWIP document - who is it being written for, what is its function and what are the outcomes you wish the document to achieve - will help determine the form and style of the document.
There are real advantages in keeping the final ROWIP as succinct as possible, with the text being confined to a short outline of the process, the issues that have been identified and the proposed actions that are needed to address them. Having a short, crisp improvement plan means that the authority can concentrate its efforts on a high quality document, which can be produced economically, but which is also attractive and easy to read.
The research assessments and other detailed background information on which the plan is based can be published separately, either as technical reports, which are made available on request or through the Internet.
If the ROWIP has to be read by, and understood or acted upon, by different audiences the authority should consider whether there is a need for different versions of the ROWIP to be made available. Internally too the draft plan may need to be presented in a number of different ways.
Publishing and publicising the ROWIP
See also Writing a ROWIP part 3
Only a few of the demonstration authorities have reached the stage of formally publishing their ROWIP for final consultation. Those that have done so have adopted differing approaches and have also had widely differing outcomes, as illustrated by the experiences of Hampshire and Bedfordshire.
Hampshire published its two Countryside Access Plans (area ROWIPs) at the very end of the drafting process and did so in largely conventional ways (eg. by sending copies to all interest groups and parish councils, by ensuring copies were widely available for inspection, publishing notices in the local press, etc). Despite the wide publicity given to the two plans, the County received only a very modest response. This was thought to reflect the fact that there had already been wide consultations and possibly that the plans are written in broad, strategic terms to which few people are likely to object.
Bedfordshire chose to publish its draft Outdoor Access Improvement Plan at a somewhat earlier stage. It also made a conscious effort to get the views of the general public by encouraging people to respond by voting on which of 16 strategic headline issues should be given the greatest priority. It did this by rewriting and packaging the draft plan under the title "live and breathe bedfordshire ... our great outdoors", producing an easy-to-read summary leaflet, and by generating wide public awareness about the proposed plan including through the use of radio commercials and an interactive web site. Over 1,000 responses were received giving a clear, statistically significant indication of the public's strategic preferences.
Implementing and monitoring progress
See also Monitoring Effectiveness
The approach by Hampshire (which is the only demonstration authority to have yet set up formal monitoring and reporting arrangements) provides a model for other authorities to follow.
To maintain an overview of all the actions being taken to implement each area ROWIP, information is being collected via a report form which has been circulated widely, including to area teams, parish councils and the National Trust. The information collected is fed into an annual countywide Action Plan and Report. This covers the work both of the County Council and the other organisations involved in countryside access and lists all of the issues identified in the ROWIP, their timescale and respective priorities.
The report is part of the regular reporting cycle to the Council's Recreation and Heritage Policy Review Committee which set the access priorities for the whole Countryside Service. It also feeds into the Service Plan, and via the Service Plan into the Area Team Plans and - ultimately - into individual personal development reviews within the service.