The Definitive Map and Statement
The Definitive Map and Statement are the legal record of the public's rights to use Public Footpaths, Public Bridleways, Restricted Byways and Byways Open to All Traffic.
The definitive map
It is actually many separate maps that show the routes of the thousands of individual Public Footpaths, Public Bridleways, Restricted Byways and Byways Open to All Traffic recorded throughout Cheshire East.
These maps, together with the Definitive Statements for each route, are the legal record of the public's rights along them. Most of these maps are at a scale of 1:10560 (i.e. 6 inches = 1 mile or about 10cm = 1km).
Getting to see the definitive map
The original Definitive Map(s) and the working copies are available for public inspection during normal office hours, at the Public Rights of Way team office.
You are advised to contact the office before visiting to ensure that an officer is on hand to assist with any queries you might have regarding the Map.
The Definitive Statement for each Public Right of Way describes the route and any restrictions on its use. The Statements for most of Cheshire East's Public Rights of Way are very brief! Those for new routes are more informative.
Ordnance survey maps to show Public Rights of Way accurately
Definitive Maps are, more often than not, printed at a scale of 1:10,560 or 1:10,000, so there is a slight reduction in the precision with which the exact line of a path can be shown when transferred to 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 mapping.
Even so, these maps are more than adequate for most purposes - navigation, study or planning your walk or ride. You should be aware that published Ordnance Survey mapping can never be completely up to date as there is a time lag between a change made to the Definitive Map and that change being shown on Ordnance Survey mapping.
However, you can expect that the greater part of the path network will be accurately shown on the latest maps available in the shops or online.
Publication of the definitive map
Preparation of the Definitive Map started in the early 1950s, following the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
Initial surveys were carried out by town/parish councils and walking groups.
A lengthy consultation process involving landowners and path users eventually led to the publication of the Definitive Maps for most of Cheshire, in the years between 1966 and 1974.
The urban area of central Macclesfield (and some other urban areas no longer in Cheshire) were omitted from the survey at that time. Maps for this area were published in 1997.
Is the definitive map up-to-date
Since publication, various legal orders have been made to modify the Definitive Map.
These reflect the numerous path diversions, creations, closures and other changes which have occurred since the map was prepared.
The Council is working towards publishing a consolidated Definitive Map for Cheshire East which will incorporate all these changes. Meanwhile, the Council keeps updated working copies of the Map available for public inspection, including the Interactive Map.
What 'Definitive' means
The appearance of a path on the Definitive Map is conclusive proof of its existence in law. However the reverse is not true.
The fact that a right of way is not recorded on the Map, along a particular route, is not evidence that there is no Public Right of Way along that route.
Similarly, higher rights e.g. bridle rights, may exist along a route shown only as a Public Footpath.
Solicitors, developers and other commercial interest parties can request a search to identify any recorded Public Rights of Way on a property.
The process for property searches, for which there is a fee, is outlined below:
- applicant submits map showing property boundary together with application fee
- officer completes search of Definitive Map and Statement
- written search results are provided to applicant
To request a search, contact the Public Rights of Way team. There is a fee charged for a property search, stated in the Public Rights of Way Charging Policy 2017 (PDF, 80KB).
Landowner declarations - section 31 deposits
Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980 is a provision through which landowners can help protect themselves from ‘claims’ for Public Rights of Way by depositing a map, statement and declaration with the Public Rights of Way team. 'Claims' for Public Rights of Way are referred to as Definitive Map Modification Order applications. You can read more information on s31 deposits or see the online register.
What to do if you think the Definitive Map is inaccurate or incomplete
You may apply to the Council for the addition of a path to the Definitive Map, a deletion of a path from the Definitive Map, or for a change in the status of a Public Right of Way shown on it.
However, since the Map is deemed to be legally conclusive proof of the existence of the public rights shown on it, you will need to supply strong evidence to support your claim.
Given sufficient evidence, the Council is obliged to make a Definitive Map Modification Order to effect the change.
View the online register of Definitive Map Modification Order applications.
To apply for a Definitive Map Modification Order Application, contact the Public Rights of Way Team.
Definitive map '2026 cut-off' date
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (the 'CROW' Act), provision was made for closing the Definitive Map to historical claims after 2026.
This was seen as an opportunity to bring more certainty for the public and landowners alike as to what and where the recorded Public Rights of Way were.
Claims can still be made after the 1st January 2026 for routes that have acquired long usage (twenty years or more) since 1949, equally claims to upgrade an existing route can be made on this basis.
A project entitled 'Discovering Lost Ways' was initiated by Natural England in a few test case authorities, one of which was Cheshire, in an attempt to quantify the potential pool of claims that may be out there and also to streamline a methodology for achieving claims to be made within the existing legislative framework. This project demonstrated that the means to achieve the ’completion’ of the Definitive Map was not currently available.
A National Stakeholder Working Group was set up to consider how to improve the processes to identify and record ‘lost ways’ and in 2010 a report entitled ‘Stepping Forward’ set out 32 proposals to achieve this.
‘Improvements to the Policy and Legal Framework for Public Rights of Way’ was published by Defra as a consultation document in May 2012 as a response to Stepping Forward and how those changes could be achieved.
The Deregulation Act 2015
Following the Stakeholder Working Group report and subsequent consultation, a package of measures was drawn up to simplify, speed up and reduce costs and administrative burdens associated with rights of way procedures. These were included within the Deregulation Act 2015, although not all of the recommendations of the Stakeholder Working Group were included.
The parts of the Act concerning Public Rights of Way are sections 20 to 26:
20. recording rights of way: additional protection
21. unrecorded rights of way: protection from extinguishment
22. conversion of public rights of way to private rights of way
23. applications by owners etc. for public path orders
24. extension of powers to authorise erection of gates at owner’s request
25. applications for certain orders under Highways Act 1980: cost recovery
26. public rights of way: procedure.
Within those sections are a multitude of changes in procedure and process which in brief intend to act as a package of legislative reforms. The actual processes through which the content of the Act will be delivered will be set out in regulations. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is currently drafting the regulations. There is no timetable available for when these regulations will be published, and therefore no date for the implementation of the requirements of the Deregulation Act.