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Fighting for your rights to ride

The Countryside Agency have risked angering the Department
of the Environment, Transport and the Regions by clearly stating their disapproval
of the current Bill due for its second reading on March 20th.This fully substantiates
access users charges that the DETR have traded off rights of way to pacify landowners
for open access legislation. We can only pray that Labour will listen, if not to
the millions of people who use rights of way, then to the Countryside Agency, the
government’s own advisors on countryside issues.

In a report presented at the Agency meeting held on March 9th, the Agency states

“our general conclusion is that the rights of way proposals, whilst good in
parts, are unbalanced as they currently stand. The main problem is that proposals
which will guarantee specific improvements in the network are few, compared with
several proposals which, taken together, could lead to some diminution of it.”

“Without the assurance of sufficient research into, and recording of rights
of way there would be no security against the effective extinguishment of large numbers
of undiscovered ‘higher’ rights in some places.”

” some of our proposals seem to have been adapted in ways that make them
less helpfulÖ our advice that local authorities should determine requests
for changes to the network within a specified time limit has emerged as a proposal
simply to give those with an interest in land a formal right to apply for closures
and diversions…”

“Allied to this is a concern that the overall effect will be to add to the
administrative burden of already underfunded rights of way departments at a time
when some of them are also likely to come under pressure to deal with the effects
of access to open country. The DETR proposed that land managers and the public should
have a statutory right to apply for the making of public path orders to divert
or close
rights of way. Despite more than half of respondents opposing this,
the DETR believe it is important to the overall balance of the package. We oppose
this clause as drafted. It introduces more complexity into the existing procedures,
it is biased towards the interests of land managers and it does not achieve our original

“The Governmentís consultation paper proposed measures to stop up or divert
public paths for crime prevention reasons, anywhere in England and Wales. This was
opposed by 70% of respondents. We also were concerned about the potential to abuse
the powers. ”

“The DETRs economic appraisal of rights of way work (see above) indicates that
a further £50 million per year is required for highway authorities to fulfil
existing duties, and a further £60-70 million for new duties included in the
Bill. This information has been used in the Regulatory Impact Assessment which accompanied
the Bill presented to Parliament. If extra money is allocated we would want assurance
that it would be allocated to rights of way work.”

“The DETR state that the Local Government Act 1999 includes a range of powers
of intervention by the Secretary of State for use when local authorities fail to
comply with the requirements of the Act. The Government believe that the development
of ROW performance indicators and regular auditing of their new Performance Plans
within the best value framework will offer more incentives for under performing authorities
to undertake their duties. However, it is difficult to see that this will have any
effect and to some extent it will depend on how much local taxpayer/service user
support there is for improving the service currently provided.”

“We are also disappointed that the Government has dismissed our recommendation
to appoint a rights of way regulator, or ombudsman.”

At last we are not the only ones to say that this Bill is biased towards landowners
and unfair to access users. Furthermore our fundamental belief that this Bill will
not improve access opportunities but remove them forever. For further information
a condensed version can be viewed at
or the full version can be seen at Countryside Agency web site at


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