24 October 1997

Roam bill to come with compensation for extra facilities

COMPENSATION will be paid to landowners if they provide additional stiles, gates, or car-parking facilities to cope with the rise in the number of walkers that the governments right to roam policy is expected to generate.

But claims by the Country Landowners Association that farmers should also be compensated for loss of land value through increased access have been dismissed by a senior government official as unwarranted.

Susan Carter, head of the countryside division at the department of environment, transport and the regions, said she recognised that a system of grants was important to compensate landowners for extra costs that increased access to the countryside might cause.

She told a meeting of the Institute of Economic Affairs that farmers would be able to obtain grants through countryside stewardship and access schemes, which might be extended geographically following consultation on governments access proposals, expected to be released in the next month.

Tony Bailey, CLA director of policy, argued that governments right to roam policy would result in poor quality access, problems of dangerous dogs loose in the countryside, litter, vandalism, and a rise in rural crime.

He insisted government was wrong to believe that the policy could be implemented without additional resources and costs. And, if adequate compensation was not forthcoming, a legal challenge would be inevitable, Mr Bailey warned.

He argued that 101,175 ha (250,000 acres) of voluntary access had been opened up over the past five to six years. The CLA, in conjunction with the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, had also started an access assessment scheme on farms in a number of counties.

Oliver Doubleday, chairman of the NFUs parliamentary, land use and environment committee, said a right to roam policy would lead to a "honeypot" problem, like that encountered in Snowdonia National Park where thousands of people descended into a small area, costing the authority £0.5m simply to manage the access.

But Kate Ashbrook, Ramblers Association president, said voluntary access had provided few opportunities for walkers over the past 50 years. &#42