7 June 2002

Hants estate on new path

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS on an estate in Hampshire are being given greater flexibility to divert their footpaths, as part of a pioneering project which aims to see if access can be improved for users by taking landowners needs more into account.

The Countryside Access Study, run jointly by Hampshire County Council and sponsored by the Countryside Agency, aims to test new approaches to improving access.

It is hoped the project will provide a blueprint for managing access which can be rolled out across the rest of the county and eventually the rest of the country.

Jo Hale, integrated access manager, said the scheme was significant in the light of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. "It provides a way forward that not only takes on users needs but also landowners needs," she said.

One of the more radical measures the council is trying out on the Southwick Estate is allowing farmers to divert footpaths without facing the usual long and legalistic processes.

"We are trying to see whether a more flexible approach with farmers can yield a better network and less work," said Miss Hale.

"People do not want to have to manage routes that no one uses. We are testing out a new approach to find out if temporary diversions work and to see if we can slightly change priorities rather than sticking to the letter of the law."

The sort of proposal the council will consider is for a farmer to divert a path around a field rather than across it, if people tend to walk that way anyway. This then removes the need to spray out the crop, she said.

The estate, which has 32 tenants, was chosen for the project because it is flanked by Fareham and Portsmouth and so has a large urban population in very close proximity.

In the past it has suffered in some parts from vandalism and car dumping. There have also been problems because footpaths have not be sprayed out or stiles have not been repaired when they should.

Although the project is still in its very early stages the council hopes as it proceeds it can also work on an education programme which will help to establish a better relationship between the estate and the local community.

This will help the estate ultimately, said Miss Hale. "We are trying to manage the gateways into the countryside in a better way to try and minimise vandalism and misuse that occurs."

As a way of improving lines of communication between tenant farmers, their agents and the council, a working group has been established which had its first meeting at the end of May.

The group will give farmers a chance to air their views, said Miss Hale. "It will also help to make it clear what they have to do and where the lines of responsibility are. The clarification will be useful." &#42

A path to change… Council officials are trying to be more flexible with farmers.