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Rights of way battle between council and trail riders reaches Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will this week hear a county council’s appeal over whether an application by motorcyclists to upgrade rights of way complied with relevant statutory requirements.

In R (on the application of Trail Riders Fellowship and another) v Dorset County Council Jonathan Stuart submitted applications seeking modification orders in relation to the definitive map and statement maintained by Dorset County Council.

His aim was to achieve the upgrading of existing rights of way from footpath to bridleway to BOAT (byways open to all traffic) and/or achieve BOAT status for other lengths of path.

Reclassification of the footpaths or bridleways would enable trail riders and others to ride their motorcycles on them.

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The litigation so far has not concerned the merits of the applications or the quality of evidence produced in support. Instead it relates to whether the applications met statutory requirements.

The applications were accompanied by computer-generated enlargements of Ordnance Survey maps.

The council rejected the applications on the basis that the applications were not accompanied by maps "drawn to a scale of not less than 1:25,000", as required by Paragraph 1 of Schedule 14 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife and Countryside (Definitive Maps and Statements) Regulations 1993.

In the High Court Mr Justice Supperstone agreed with the council’s interpretation and found that there had been non-compliance. The judge rejected an alternative ground of challenge based on the de minimis principle.

Giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal in May 2013, Lord Justice Kay overturned the High Court ruling and found for the trail riders.

He concluded that a map which is produced to a scale of 1:25,000, even if it is digitally derived from an original map with a scale of 1:50,000, satisfies the requirements of paragraph 1(a) of Schedule 14 “provided that it is indeed ‘a map’ and that it shows the way or ways to which the application relates”. 

The issue before the Supreme Court this week (15 January) is therefore whether the proper interpretation of a map of "a scale of not less than 1:25,000" permitted a map which had originally been drawn to a smaller scale and then enlarged by a computer programme to a scale of 1:25,000.

A panel of five justices – Lord Neuberger, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption, Lord Carnwath and Lord Toulson – will hear the case.

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