Giving walkers the right to roam across England’s open countryside has cost the government 69m – equivalent to £74 for each hectare of access land.

Implementing the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act cost almost double the figure first expected, reveals a National Audit Office report.

The Countryside Agency’s initial estimate for implementing open access was £28m, but it eventually spent £52.6m on the programme.

“The agency did not adequately assess the risk involved, and as a result underestimated the amount of work needed to map access land,” said the NAO.

“This was partly due to the difficulties of estimating the cost of a one-off project, but a desire to avoid delays meant the agency did not run a pilot scheme.”

The audit office’s general verdict was that granting ramblers the right to walk across open countryside had been successfully implemented.

It said the right to roam was introduced two months ahead of target and information on how to use it was generally good.

But the report warned that it is still too early to meaningfully measure the take-up of the new right.

“We encountered few other walkers during many of our site tests, although this might reflect the timing of our visits,” it said.

“The first main test of usage is likely to be in the summer holidays in 2006, when demand should be higher.”

David Fursdon, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said the report showed that the agency was wrong to be pushing ahead with plans to give people more access to coastal land.

“Never has so much been spent on so few – so let’s not make the same mistake with the coastal access project by giving people a blanket right that will fail to encourage more, and new, people to get out and enjoy the countryside.

“As the report states, it’s too early to measure take-up and assess the effect on vulnerable sites and land management practices, so why on earth is the Countryside Agency ploughing on with recommendations for improving coastal access when we don’t know how successful this new right of access has been?”

isabel.davies@rbi.co.uk