The future of North Yorkshire’s 700km network of historic lanes is looking bright, following years of uncertainty and deterioration, with off-road driving enthusiasts perhaps unfairly taking most of the blame, a meeting has heard.
Expressions of optimism come three years after North Yorkshire County Council’s Countryside Access Service (CAS) took responsibility for unsealed unclassified roads, which the local authority and North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales national park authorities repeatedly warned were being severely damaged.
Some 48 per cent of the routes are in the North York Moors, 31 per cent in the Yorkshire Dales, and significant lengths of green lanes are also in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
A meeting of the county’s Local Access Forum heard CAS’ achievements in turning around the tracks state of repair heralded as “outstanding” and “amazing”.
Recently completed works include a steep, historic track at one of the most popular sites at the North York Moors, at Sheep Wash, near Osmotherley, which most users could not use without putting themselves at risk.
Another major project saw the Percy Cross to Lonsdale route in Kildale reopened, which had been closed for many years as a result of serious damage that had left it in a dangerous condition for all users.
Forum members were told with a budget of up to £200,000 a year from the council, CAS had worked with users groups such as the Trail Riders Fellowship and the Green Lane Alliance, national park authorities, parish councils and volunteers to repair the key recreational and farming routes, some of which had been inaccessible for decades.
While wide-ranging repairs have seen the council introduce temporary closures to allow damaged lanes to recover, to ensure more of the routes are open for recreation it has taken action against landowners who lock gates to stop the public highways being used.
The forum heard while members welcomed the improvement works, they also feared it would encourage off-road driving enthusiasts back onto them, leading to further damage.
However, officers said it was intended the routes, which have been used for centuries to travel by foot, on horseback, or by horse-carriage, would again be used by a wide variety of interest groups.
Officers said off-road vehicles were “a major contributory factor” on some of the routes’ deterioration, but many had become inaccessible due to drainage problems in the surrounding area.
Officers added many green lanes had had no maintenance for many years and extraordinary flood events had also been a contributory factor in their deterioration, but CAS was now looking to expand the use of volunteers and instigate a cyclical maintenance regime.
CAS manager Ian Kelly said: “Up until now the works have been generated by the state of some of these routes, it’s almost been reacting to the situation on the ground. We are now moving into a phase where we can be a bit more planned in terms of what work we’re doing.”