New deadline confirmed for public rights of way applications

Thrings law public and private rights of way applications

Anyone seeking to register new public rights of way will need to apply by a new deadline, following a surprising change in position by the government.

The decision to reinstate a deadline for applications to the official record of footpaths and bridleways that can be used by members of the public comes as part of the government’s Levelling Up Bill. This rescinds the previous decision to scrap the 2026 cut-off and instead extends it to 1 January 2031.

Applications to add public rights of way to the Definitive Map (the official record) have increased in recent years, particularly in light of the government’s original 2026 plan, with many landowners welcoming the original deadline, as it was seen to bring certainty and a clear timeframe in which they might face a challenge to the use of their property.

In February 2022, Defra revealed that this plan would be repealed altogether. A dramatic change that was seen as a victory for potential applicants, particularly as the existing system was under substantial stress and many local authorities were facing backlogs of years rather than months to process applications.

Robert James, who heads up the Thrings Public Rights of Way team, said: “The concerns raised with the 2026 deadline will undoubtedly resurface following this week’s announcement, given that an additional five years may not offer much of an extension at all in practice. Indeed, we have experience of applicants and land owners being advised that their matter would not even be considered for at least three years in the worst cases.

“It is yet to be seen whether the reintroduction of a strict deadline will cause another influx of applications and there are sure to be questions about the wider implications of this further change from the government, given how contentious, lengthy and expensive the process to apply to the Definitive Map can be as well as the backlogs that already exist up and down the country.

“We would encourage those seeking to apply to get sound legal advice and support in ensuring their applications are successful before the deadline arrives.”

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