The National Parks Committee (chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse), reporting to the Minister of Town and Country Planning in 1947 recommended that a complete survey of public rights of way should be made, and shown on Ordnance Survey maps.
Part IV of The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 provided for classification of three types of public rights of way (footpaths, bridleways, and roads used as public paths) in England and Wales to be defined on maps of an appropriate scale, on the basis of surveys carried out by parish councils, and other local bodies, who were to submit information to the local authorities.
The survey was to cover all lands in each county over which a right of way was alleged to exist. It was to follow a lengthy procedure involving draft maps, public inquiries, provisional maps and court hearings, all designed to protect the rights and interests of both users and landowners, and resulting in the publication of the Definitive Map for each county. Local authorities were required not only to prepare Definitive Maps, but also to keep them up to date through periodic reviews covering the whole county.
A copy of each Definitive Map was to be supplied to the Minister. From the early 1950s copies of these maps were forwarded to the Ordnance Survey by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and later by the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office. This provision was endorsed by circulars to Local Authorities in 1983 (Department of the Environment Circular 1/83 and Welsh Office Circular 1/83: Public Rights of Way) requiring them to send a copy of new editions of Definitive Maps, Statements and Public Path Orders to the Ordnance Survey.
In 1958, following meetings with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ordnance Survey accepted the Hobhouse Committee recommendation and agreed to show rights of way, as defined by the 1949 Act, on its mapping. But this was to be no simple transfer of information from one map to another. The rights of way shown on the Definitive Maps produced by the local authorities had legal authority under the Act, but there were complications associated with their inclusion on the national mapping. Rights of way were being created, amended and extinguished by a variety of authorities at irregular intervals, making it impossible to keep the Ordnance Survey mapping up-to-date.
This issue was resolved through the publication of Ordnance Survey Policy Statement No 55 (1959) which indicated that the national mapping would show all the public rights of way included on Definitive Maps of a certain date. By this time there was enough Definitive Map cover produced by the local authorities to make inclusion of rights of way information on Ordnance Survey mapping worthwhile. This began with the most appropriate scales for the purpose: the one-inch Seventh Series (scale 1:63,360) in 1960 and the Second Series of the 1:25,000 scale mapping (later called Pathfinder) from 1965.
From 1965 Public Path Orders generated by the local authority, were supplied to the Ordnance Survey. These Orders, amending rights of way, were used to update the Ordnance Survey mapping between editions of the Definitive Maps. Details from the Orders were transferred to the Ordnance Survey's copy of the relevant Definitive Map, but only if confirmation was given, through a Validation Instruction, that the Order was operative.
The Local Government Act 1972, created new counties, abolished and amalgamated existing counties and transferred areas between counties. This Act also provided for local councils to accept responsibility for rights of way in their own areas, which were previously the responsibility of the County Council. This necessitated a rearrangement of Ordnance Survey holdings of Definitive Map cover and the Public Path Orders filing system. Names of local authorities were changed only when new Definitive Maps were produced.
The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act abolished the requirement for five-year reviews of Definitive Maps for the whole county area, replacing it with a continuous review system facilitated by newly created Modification Orders which amended Definitive Maps and could be applied to parts of counties.
The 1981 Act also extended the cover of the compulsory survey to the whole of England and Wales except the Inner London Boroughs and the Scilly Isles. Under the 1949 Act County Councils were empowered to exclude built-up areas on the grounds that a survey in these fully developed parts would not be beneficial. The survey was optional for the County of London, and the County Boroughs. The response among the County Boroughs was varied but the London County Council (LCC) did not take up the option. At the creation of the Greater London Council in 1965 (from the former LCC area and parts of the surrounding County Council areas), survey powers were given to all the newly created London Boroughs, which were only obliged to continue the survey where it had already begun (i.e. in the 20 Outer London Boroughs). Thus compliance for the 12 Inner London Boroughs remained optional.
By 1994 Ordnance Survey Rights of Way Section recognised the need for a change in the method of accurately recording amendments to the rights of way network. The Definitive Maps, which were no longer being kept up-to-date, did not reflect the extensive changes to the built environment. There was a need to register the network changes to more up-to-date base mapping. So from June 1994 the Ordnance Survey's Rights of Way Section began recording changes to the rights of way network using a library set of current Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale mapping, instead of annotating the Definitive Maps supplied by the local authorities. The introduction of the Explorer Map Series (replacing the Pathfinder Series) in 1995, and the introduction of new raster data production techniques, provided an opportunity for a complete review of rights of way information. Comprehensive checking of the rights of way component of Pathfinder maps was undertaken by Local Authorities and the Ramblers Association, and completed for the whole of England and Wales by 2001.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) 2000 also extended public access, and identified Open Access Areas, established by Commencement Orders. These changes are depicted on Conclusive Maps produced by the Countryside Commission (now part of Natural England) and the Countryside Council for Wales. These ar regional definitive maps, produced between 2001 and 2005, recording land which qualifies as open country or registered common land. The areas thus defined have been incorporated on the Ordnance Survey Explorer mapping - which also replaced the Outdoor Leisure mapping in 2002.
The Ordnance Survey's Rights of Way Section was from the outset a part of the Directorate of Small and Medium Scales. From 1961 this became the Directorate of Map Production and Publication, and from 1968 simply the Directorate of Map Publication. Internal restructuring by 1979 created the Directorate of Surveys and Production which in 1991 included the Rights of Way Section as part of the Small Scale Services Branch, in turn part of Carto 3 Division. The Section was responsible for maintaining the public rights of way information published on the Pathfinder, Outdoor Leisure, Landranger and Tourist Map series. In 1994 a new operational unit was created entitled 'Mapping Intelligence', which included Rights of Way, Tourism, Small Scale Carto, Large Scale Carto, and a supporting survey unit. Mapping Intelligence was part of the Directorate of Data Collection until 2003, when it moved into the new Directorate of Data Collection and Management.