13 October 2000
Landowners slam countryside plans

By Isabel Davies

LANDOWNERS have slammed a proposal to transfer development control powers in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty away from the local authority.

The plan, part of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, would see power shifted away from local authorities to unelected Conservation Boards.

If this happens it could lead to the stifling of rural enterprise and initiative and hinder the success of the countryside, says the Country Landowners Association.

“These new clauses and schedules give the secretary of state very wide powers to transfer any functions of local authorities to the Conservation Boards, effectively meaning they could become the planning authorities in these areas,” said deputy director of policy Dr Alan Woods.

“This would make it more difficult and costly for people who live and work in these rural areas to develop their existing businesses and to diversify into new activities.

“These are not chocolate-box areas – they are settled areas of working countryside.

“Local planning authorities are publicly elected and accountable to those who live and work there. The proposed Board, another tier of bureaucracy for many rural areas, would be much less accountable,” he said.

The CLA will be lobbying peers to reject the proposals, which will be debated by the House of Lords when it next looks at the Bill on 16 October.

Since they reconvened on 27 September, peers have examined at issues like dogs, whether landowners should be compensated, and night-time access.

The issue of night-time access has proved a particularly thorny one.

Baroness Mallalieu argued that the night-time access lobby had no consideration for people who live and work in the countryside.

“Those living in isolated rural areas need to know who is about at night.

“The sense of security and the quality of life is diminished if lights are seen on the hill and one knows someone is out there but it is not known who they are and what they may be up to, and one cannot call swiftly for help to find out.”

But others said there would be some people and organisations like Scouts or the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme who wanted to walk at night.

Lord Greaves said: “The mountaineering and hill-walking experience is one which cannot be constrained to particular times of the year or particular times of the day or night.”