A High Court hearing has quashed four traffic regulation orders which the Yorkshire Dales National Park had placed on ancient green lanes in Craven.

The judge ruled there were flaws in the park’s initial decision-making and said it was “irrational” to place traffic regulation orders on three routes where restriction was unnecessary.

Historically, green lanes are only used by those on foot, horse or in some cases by horse-drawn carts. Damage caused to them by modern off-road vehicles has prompted the national park to impose no-go areas for vehicles other than farm vehicles on a number of sensitive routes.

The national park had made 13 traffic regulation orders (TROs) on green lanes after an extensive review of the network. The aim was to preserve the amenity and conserve the natural beauty of the areas through which the routes pass.

But the Land Access Recreation Association (LARA) and two individuals began court proceedings against the national park authority in July 2008 in a bid to quash eight of the 13 orders.

Following a two-day hearing, the High Court in Leeds has decided that TROs imposed on four of the eight routes should be quashed.

They are Gorbeck Road and Stockdale Lane between Settle and Malhamdale; Street Gate near Malham Tarn to Arncliffe Cote; Harber Scar Lane between Horton-in-Ribblesdale and High Green Field.

Dr Malcolm Petyt, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s recreation member champion, said he was disappointed by the decisions.

“The authority was always aware that any orders it made to restrict motorised vehicular use of green lanes were likely to be challenged by recreational motor vehicle users,” he said.

“However, we were the first national park authority to use these new powers and the outcome means that we, along with other national park authorities, now have greater understanding of the law following this judgement.”

He said just one of the routes which had the TRO lifted – Gorbeck Road – had recognised rights for recreational motor vehicles along its full length.

The first TROs were imposed in the national park in March 2004 and were supported by almost 4,000 signatories, gathered mainly among visitors to local shows.

The TROs were placed on Mastiles Lane between Malham and Kilnsey; Top Mere Road between Kettlewell and Starbotton; Long Lane between Clapham and Selside and Horse Head between Yockenthwaite and Halton Gill. These remain in place and have seen criminal prosecutions against people flouting them, including two bikers from Bradford who were both fined £50 for riding along Mastiles Lane in May 2007.

Dr Michael Bartholomew, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Local Access Forum, is a member of the national park authority’s consultative group on the management of green lanes and also chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, a group which opposes off-road recreation on sensitive green lanes.

He said: “The judge’s decision to quash four TROs turned on a small, but decisive point of law.

“He held that the YDNPA’s decision-making was flawed by a failure to balance the various duties laid on it by section 122 of the Road Traffic Act 1984.

“The judge’s ruling is unlikely to be challengeable. However, the case is distinctly odd, for although the TROs on four green lanes have been quashed, it will almost certainly turn out to be the case that, on other grounds, three of the four have no motor vehicular rights on them anyway.

“And, in any case, it is open to the national park authority to remake all four of the orders in ways that will accommodate the judge’s ruling.”

Coun Wilf Fenten, chairman of Horton-in-Ribblesdale Parish Council and also a member of the YDNPA, said: “I am also chairman of the YDNPA’s access committee, the very committee which decided the four routes in question needed a full-time TRO to safeguard the environment and make sure that other users of these green lanes do not have their enjoyment spoiled.

“The national park worked extremely hard to consult everybody. In fact, the liaison group which looked at all of the lanes involved had a disproportionately high number of representatives with leisure-vehicle interests on them. So it is particularly disappointing that, despite all the efforts the park made, court action was initiated on what I consider a very obscure minor detail.

"I only hope that the park authority will find a way to keep those green lanes peaceful and green. We owe that to our visitors, to our local people and to future generations.”