Agenda item

Update on pressures surrounding Definitive Map Modification Orders service


4.1       The Chair invited Karen Pearman, Asset Data Team Leader (Highway Records & DMMO) to introduce this item. Members took the report as read and noted the following highlighted points:

  • Modification Order applications are requests for a public right of way (footways, bridleways etc.) to be officially recorded onto the Definitive Map.
  • The Council had a statutory duty to accept and investigate all valid applications, on the basis of evidence and whether the right exists.
  • Particular changes in legislation had caused a recent surge in application numbers and had led to the need for prioritisation in line with other duties of the team.
  • The DMMO service had also received additional and external scrutiny over the backlog in applications, particularly applications that were contested.
  • This report set out the main pressures being seen by the service.
  • It was added that the Council had now received a request from the Gloucestershire Local Access Forum to call in a particular named consultant to look into whether they can advise the council on increasing throughput of applications. Officers were therefore in the process of contacting other councils who had been through a similar process to understand what it may entail.


4.2       The Committee thanked officers and the team for all their hard work in this area. It was very clear and evident the amount of technical work that went into processing these applications and they appreciated the surrounding circumstances causing the extensive backlog.

4.3       A member shared that they had received a number of emails from residents on this issue, mainly around the time taken to process orders, noting some cases were taking decades and witnesses who had the evidence were passing away prior to their applications being processed. They shared that Kent County Council had managed to reduce their processing time and backlog considerably and wondered if they could be consulted.

4.4       The member shared an extract from a resident’s email which suggested that the Council had an absolute option to submit any opposed order on the basis that it will be taking a neutral stance, thereby shifting the onus on to the interested parties to oppose and defend the order made, resulting in a dramatically reduced workload for the Council.

4.5       Officers advised they would need to take advice on this point and would provide a written response to the Committee.

ACTION:       Karen Pearman/Philip Williams

4.6       It was stressed that these applications were generally complex, frequently affecting historic rights, and frequently disputed. The Council has a responsibility to fully investigate the submitted claims against the available evidence, rather whether it was a good or bad thing. It was also noted that the work area is very specialist, which impacts on the success of recruitment. The recent funding allocation for 1.5FTE was only fixed term for 2 years which also means it was very difficult to plan long term on training and development.  

4.7       A member suggested that the council could reach out to some of Gloucestershire’s academic institutions to discuss opportunities for this area of technical work to be offered as a course or training for students. It could also consider raising the issue with the Local Government Association as a large number of councils were having similar problems. There was also a suggestion that there needed to be a backstop on how long applications can be in the system before a resolution was agreed.

4.8       Officers advised that there was a huge amount of work across the Environment, Economy, and Infrastructure directorate which all needed prioritisation within that wider picture, officers would not look at individual departments in isolation. This unfortunately meant therefore that an issue such as PROW which affected a smaller group of individuals may be deprioritised if more countywide issues needed resource.

4.9       It was reiterated that Gloucestershire was not alone in seeing pressures on numbers of DMMO applications and backlogs, and part of the reason for the accelerated demand was consideration by Government to legislate a 2026 cut off for applications. The uncertainty around implementation of this had left residents concerned they would miss their chance, there were also national organisations (representing horse riders and walkers for example), who were looking for routes to claim nationally before this potential cut off.

4.10    A member highlighted that PROW applications were a right that needed to be defended and financed accordingly. In the age of a climate emergency and encouraging more people to take part in active travel, access to an open, maintained and properly recorded PROW network was very important.

4.11    The Cabinet Member for Environment and Planning welcomed today’s input and discussion from members on such an important issue. He agreed that the current situation was unacceptable, and officers needed to explore examples of best practice.

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