Definitive Map and Statement
What is the Definitive Map and Statement?
The Definitive Map and Statement is the legal record of public rights of way for the area it covers. It will be kept and maintained by the relevant local highway authority, usually the County or County Borough Council.
It is a public document and the authority has a duty to make it available to anyone who wishes to view it. Many authorities will also carry out a search of these records for a small fee.
Definitive Maps record only certain types of public highway – namely public footpaths, public bridleways, Restricted Byways and Byways Open to All Traffic. They do not record information about the normal roads network, permissive paths, cycle tracks or private rights of way.
Location and status
The map records the location and status of routes while the statement will usually contain supplementary information, such as whether the route has a defined legal width or whether it is subject to any limitations, for example, a landowner's right to erect and maintain stiles and gates.
Definitive Maps and Statements may vary considerably from area to area. Some areas may have neither (excluded areas) while others may have a map but no accompanying statement.
Much will depend on the circumstances in which these maps were first drawn up (usually in the 1950s) and when the local authority last revised its Definitive Map and Statement (through a legal process known as ‘consolidation’).
Revised Definitive Maps
Maps that have been through a consolidation process, and are not first, original Definitive Maps, are referred to as ‘Revised Definitive Maps’. Each Definitive Map will have a ‘relevant date’ and only changes made up to this date will be recorded on it.
Working copies of the Definitive Map
As a rule, consolidation occurs infrequently and some authorities may not have consolidated for several decades. However, most authorities will also maintain a working copy of their map which will be kept continuously updated as legal orders are confirmed. Working copies may be physical maps or digital maps. Local authorities may make digital working copies available to the public via their websites.
An updated source
As working copies will be more up-to-date than the actual Definitive Map, they are generally used for day to day reference although, as working copies will be less rigorously controlled, they may contain drafting errors. Users of these versions should keep in mind that they are dealing with copies, not the actual legal record.
A minimum record
The Definitive Map and Statement provides conclusive legal proof of the existence and status of those routes shown on it, and of any widths or limitations recorded in the statement, at the relevant date. Definitive Maps are, however, acknowledged to be a ‘minimum record’ only and the law recognises that many rights of way will exist but will be unrecorded.
In other words, simply because a route is not shown on a Definitive Map does not prove that it is not a public right of way. Most legal duties relating to public rights of way are, therefore, not limited to those recorded on a Definitive Map.
Redrafting and revision
It may be that some rights were missed when the map was first drawn up, that a mistake was made when a map was redrafted, or that a new public right of way has been established since the last revision – for example, in cases of long-term public use. Such cases will need to be considered on their own merits.
See below for more information about these situations.
What are Definitive Maps used for?
Although most members of the public will never actually see a Definitive Map and Statement, they will probably be familiar with information derived from them. For instance, these documents form the basis for information about public rights of way that appears on Ordnance Survey maps and in other recreational publications. Definitive Maps and Statements are the documents referred to also in local land charge searches, when a person is considering buying a property and wants to know whether it is subject to public rights.
Correcting and updating the Definitive Map and Statement
In some cases, rights may have been recorded erroneously. Alternatively a right may have been recorded in the wrong location or have been given the wrong status. In certain circumstances, rights of way may have been established through long-term public use after the Definitive Map was drafted.
Cessation of public rights of way
Once a public right of way has been dedicated, it can only cease to exist if it is legally stopped up or extinguished. Public highway rights do not cease to exist simply as a result of lack of use.
Correcting mistakes or omissions in the Definitive Map is a legal process which requires evidence. The correction process is set out in the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Local authorities may instigate the process themselves or else members of the public may apply for a modification by making a ‘Schedule 14' application and attaching relevant evidence.
Map Modification Orders
Once the local authority becomes aware of sufficient evidence that the Definitive Map is incorrect, it has a duty to make a Definitive Map Modification Order to correct the error. Anyone who does not believe the evidence supports the proposed change, and can provide evidence to support their own position, may object to the modification order, in which case the authority will need to pass it on to the Planning Inspectorate.
Confirming Modification Orders
The Planning Inspectorate will hear the evidence and determine whether or not the order should be confirmed. Local highway authorities should maintain a public register of applications for changes to the Definitive Map.
For more information about applying for, or making representations about, a Definitive Map Modification Order, please contact the relevant council’s rights of way team. For information about the process for dealing with contested orders in Wales, please visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/object-to-a-public-right-of-way-order.
Other changes to public rights of way
It is possible to apply to change a right of way even in the absence of evidence. Changes of this kind are often referred to as 'preferential changes' and are usually made at the request of the owner of the land over which the right of way runs.
Public Path Orders
These types of change usually require a Public Path Order, under the Highways Act 1980. Unlike orders to correct the Map based on evidence, authorities have the power – but not a duty – to make Public Path Orders and may recover from the applicant costs associated with processing applications and making orders.
Most Public Path Orders are diversions and, although it is possible to extinguish public rights of way, such applications often attract opposition and frequently fail. Cessations of these rights of way can only be confirmed as a rule if it can be proved that the right of way is not needed for public use.
Rail crossings and school grounds
There are special powers, and specific tests, that relate to rail crossings, school grounds and cases in which a right of way might be required for crime prevention. Public rights of way may also be diverted or stopped up via the magistrate’s court. Specific powers to divert or stop up rights of way exist in the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, in cases where a diversion or cessation is required to enable a lawful development to take place.
Agreements between landowners and the highway authority
Public rights of way can also be created by order or by agreement between a landowner and the highway authority.
Contact the rights of way team
For more information about applying for, or making representations about, a Public Path Order, please contact the relevant council’s rights of way team. For information about the process for dealing with contested orders in Wales, please visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/object-to-a-public-right-of-way-order.