At any one time, many greenlanes are individually overshadowed by the threat of closure, but rarely is the entire legality of driving on greenlanes put in jeopardy. This, however, is the situation presented by a new public consultation by DEFRA, which could lead towards legislation that bans greenlaning altogether.
The consultation invites opinions on whether vehicles used for leisure purposes should be forbidden from driving unsealed roads – although its implications could be broader. For anti-greenlaning campaigners this is an opportunity to mobilise, warns the Land Access & Recreation Association (LARA), which is therefore urging all lane users to ensure their opinions are heard.
Where has this consultation come from?
The consultation forms part of the government’s response to the Landscapes Review of National Parks and Areas of National Beauty (AONBs).
The Green Lane Association (GLASS), a key member of LARA, has highlighted that although the government reponse is not inherently anti-greenlaning, it does single out motor vehicles as being responsible for certain areas of damage. The wording recognises that greenlanes ‘often provide essential vehicular access for local residents and businesses, and […] that many people enjoy using motor vehicles responsibly on green lanes without causing damage or disturbance.’ However, the government wishes to address ‘damage and disturbance caused by excessive use of off-road motor vehicles on some unsealed routes’.
Two options are proposed by the response. The first is for greater discretion to be given to National Park Authorities and local highway authorities to restrict use of lanes on a case-by-case basis. Lauren Eaton, Operations Manager for GLASS, describes this as ‘potentially concerning [because] the specific powers referred to already exist. Any failings to successfully manage rights of way to date are down to the ineffective use, or failure to use, those existing powers in a timely and constructive manner.’
Alternatively, says the report, ‘the government could consider restricting the use of certain motor vehicles on unsealed roads through legislation […].’ This rather ambiguous wording could have broad implications.
Which roads could be affected?
One key nuance relates to the use of the term ‘unsealed roads’, which do not have their own legal designation. Lauren Eaton explains that Unclassified County Roads (UCRs) make up 60% of the UK road network, and although those UCRs which are unsurfaced are usually of interest to greenlaners, ‘they are all one type of highway in law, and are governed by the same laws irrespective of their surface. A UCR is simply a minor road below class A, B, or C, and most of us live on one, so any legislation changes to this class of road could be hugely impactful. Changing laws that govern greenlanes could have massive inadvertent or misunderstood repercussions on the surfaced road network.’
What can we do?
Lane users are encouraged to read the policy paper entitled ‘Landscapes review (National Parks and AONBs): government response’ which can be found here, and then to respond to DEFRA’s online consultation which can be found here, by the closing date of 9 April.
LARA is also urging users to have their say directly by emailing email@example.com. ‘Objections should be registered by saying that you do not agree with restrictions proposed in questions 13-17 of the online questionnaire and use the points made above as part of your email,’ LARA says.
The review’s purpose is to gauge public opinion, so it’s important that all of us, as lane users, have our say.
'While it sounds quite terrifying from the outside, experts from all active professional 4x4 and motorcycling organisations and their professional umbrella organisations are working together on this,' says Lauren. 'The technical arguments are being covered in great detail by us all, now we need the users to speak about what is important to them.'