Right to roam steps on council toes

29 Jun 00
The government must adequately fund the proposed 'right to roam' network or local authorities face a crippling financial burden, the Liberal Democrats have warned.

30 June 2000

The Lib Dem spokeswoman on rural affairs, Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill would mean several years of intensive work for authorities as they prepare land and compile maps indicating mountain, moor, heath, down and common land open to ramblers. The bill, which received its second reading in the House of Lords this week, will compel all councils to publish these maps.

'Figures from the Countryside Agency say it will cost £30m a year for five years just to get the network into order, so that footpaths are clear, land is marked and so on. Open access is also going to mean hiring extra wardens,' she said. 'And there will be many legal appeals as the maps are drawn up.'

Miller called for extra funds to be distributed through direct grants to authorities, and rejected suggestions that they should bid for a central pot of money. 'Nobody wants a bidding system because it costs money to put together an application,' she said. 'My fear is that the network will be partly funded, but not adequately.'

Research conducted by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in response to the bill found that the cost of managing the land and employing wardens at current popular beauty spots is as high as £112 a hectare. The institute has been unable to estimate the extra costs to individual authorities because maps have not yet been compiled, but William Tew, assistant director of rural affairs, said they would be substantial.

'This is the kind of bill that local authorities across the country could face. The costs currently being incurred show that there are considerable expenses to providing good access,' he said.

Tew also warned that the bill's provisions could conflict with the Human Rights Act, which comes into law in October. It protects the individual's right to privacy and there are fears some landowners could try to use it to keep ramblers off their land, resulting in costly legal battles for local authorities.

'Local access forums are meant to adjudicate in disputes, which is clearly the best way, but a lot of people will want to go to appeal. The Countryside Agency is currently researching how the forums will work, but the Human Rights Act will certainly have an impact.'


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