Creating a right of way network fit for the 21st century

A vision for the future of public rights of way (PROW) in County Durham will go before councillors next week.

Durham County Council has drawn up its fourth ‘Public Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP)’, which will be considered by the authority’s Cabinet when it meets next Wednesday, April 19.

The plan sets out how the council will ensure the PROW network is fit for the 21st century.

Cabinet will be asked to agree the draft document and to approve a 12 week public consultation on its contents.

Cllr John Shuttleworth, the authority’s Cabinet member for rural communities and highways, said: “We have a vast public rights of way network in County Durham which we know people take a lot of pleasure from.

“The coronavirus pandemic led to a lot more people getting out and about for walks and as well as the enjoyment, doing so has benefits for both their physical and mental health.

“A lot of work has gone into preparing this plan which sets out how we will look to ensure the network meets current and future needs and we are pleased to be taking it forward.”

Public rights of way include footpaths, bridleways and byways and councils are required by law to produce a ROWIP.

This is the fourth plan the council has pieced together and whereas the previous three had three year lifespans, the emerging plan is for the next ten years.

It contains four strategic objectives and eight policies, with the former deliberately reflecting key council plans and strategies. The objectives are:

  • Managing and enhancing the PROW network so it is fit for the 21st century.
  • Promoting a PROW network that contributes to the green economy by marketing the county’s high-quality environment.
  • Empowering communities and individuals to ‘move more’.
  • Ensuring the county’s PROW are accessible to people of all abilities.

The headings of the policies are:

  • Delivering a high-quality access network.
  • Awareness of public rights of way and other routes.
  • Making the network accessible.
  • Empowering communities to ‘own’ their right of way network.
  • Promoting the economy and cultural identity of County Durham through the right of way network.
  • Ensuring the Countryside Code is followed, and landowners are respected.
  • Incorporating public rights of way in new development.
  • Monitoring the use of public rights of way.

The ROWIP was drawn up with input from external organisations including the National Trust, County Durham Sport and the County Durham charity Walk and Talk Trust.

A report to Cabinet outlines how the plan will put the authority in a strong position to draw in external funding and help set priorities for resources already allocated for PROW improvements.

Should the plan and consultation be agreed, another report will be brought to Cabinet covering the feedback received, along with a final version of the plan for adoption.