RIGHTS of way rows between walkers and landowners may become a thing of the past under a shake-up of laws.

The Department of Environment is planning to make it quicker for footpaths to be diverted off land while also protecting historic rights to roam.

One of the most significant changes is likely to mean ramblers having to apply to local councils rather than the Environment Secretary if they want paths opened – to speed up the process.

Remaining in place will be the right of landowners to apply for paths to be diverted – providing any proposal passes certain tests.

Commenting on the news, Ramblers chief executive Benedict South-worth said the proposed legislation had been carefully put together by talks with landowners and path users over three years to simplify the law for the benefit of all.

“This solution should make it easier for historic paths to be added to the definitive map.

Many of these paths have existed for hundreds of years – they are an ‘inscription on the landscape’ made by generations of people, and are as much a part of our heritage as our ancient monuments and historic buildings.

“By adding them to the official map they cannot be blocked off or built upon and are protected for future generations to enjoy.”

Richard Greenwood, of Cumbria Tourism, said: “We recognise the importance and historic interest associated with some of these long established public rights of way. That said, there will be occasional situations where a well-planned, signed and constructed diversion can avoid the loss of privacy and amenity for landowners and residents. In these situations we would welcome a speeding up and simplification of the diversion process.”

The Country Landowners’ Association in the North welcomed the recommended reforms.

Dorothy Fairburn, CLA north regional director, said: “There is no doubt the current package of reforms represents a shift in the right direction but we believe there is still plenty of scope for further measures which would improve the rights of way network and go some way to redress the balance between users and landowners.

“The impact on private property must be taken into account, and there must be good quality evidence to support a claim being made. The burden of costs should also be more fairly shared.”