R (on the application of Norfolk County Council) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

[2006] 1 WLR 1103

10th February 2005

High Court


The claimant was the surveying authority with responsibility under section 53 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for maintaining, and modifying as appropriate, the definitive map and statement of public rights of way for the County of Norfolk. It came to the claimant’s attention that there was a discrepancy between the line of a public footpath in the parish of Pentney as it was verbally described in the statement (starting from the Narborough Road by a field gate between two specified buildings), and as it was depicted on the map (joining the road at a point some 30 metres to the west of that position). After investigating the matter and obtaining further evidence, the claimant concluded that a mistake had occurred in drawing the map and made an order modifying the map to conform with the statement. Objections were received and the order was submitted for confirmation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State’s inspector refused to confirm it, and the claimant applied for judicial review of her decision.

Treating the map and statement as irreconcilable (which had been common ground at the inquiry), the inspector had erred in her approach by applying an evidential presumption in favour of the map, and her decision accordingly fell to be quashed. While section 56 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 on its proper construction accords precedence to the map in the event of an irreconcilable conflict pending any modification, in considering whether a modification is requisite there is no presumption in favour of either map or statement. The question is what on the balance of probability is the correct route in the light of all the relevant evidence, including the terms of the map and statement.

The central issue for decision in this case was the correct approach to be adopted where there is an irreconcilable conflict between a definitive map of public rights of way maintained under Part III of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and its accompanying statement as regards the route of a particular highway. The judgment also addresses the related question of when a map and statement are to be read as irreconcilable.

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