15 January 1999

Rural access facts unveiled in Feb

THE government will not release its proposals for increased access to the countryside until next month, at the earliest.

Despite the introduction of Labour MP Gordon Prentices private members Bill in parliament this week, which includes clauses which would remove farming subsidies from landowners who obstructed footpaths, a spokesman for environment minister Michael Meacher said government plans would not be published this month.

He added that Mr Meacher had met Mr Prentice and told him that ministers were still considering the options to improve public access to the countryside. Mr Meacher would study Mr Prentices Bill with interest, the spokesman said.

Mr Prentices Bill is unlikely ever to secure enough parliamentary time to become law. It will, however, be debated on March 26.

As well as removing subsidies from those who blocked footpaths, the Prentice Bill also proposes that payments should be withheld from farmers who refused to sign a declaration providing the public with a right of access.