6 September 2002

Surveyors alert to concern over maps riddled with errors

By Andrew Shirley

CHARTERED surveyors are bracing themselves for a flood of enquiries following the release of error-ridden maps which the Rural Payments Agency will be using to calculate subsidy payments and check for IACS fraud.

The maps make up the Rural Land Register, part of a scheme to change the way the RPA deals with European funding, and are supposed to be the definitive representation of the 1.7m IACS-registered parcels in the UK. However, early indications suggest that they are likely to be a headache for many farmers.

"Its going to be major," reckons Tim Broomhead of Bedford-based firm Robinson & Hall. "All of our clients are going to want us to check the maps and if everybody has a problem they (the RPA) wont cope.

"In the long run its a good idea but some of the timescales are a bit of a nightmare." The first maps were sent out on Aug 19 and farmers have 28 days to notify the RPA of any irregularities.

Mr Broomhead says a number of the maps he has seen are incorrect. "On one, none of the 15 fields matched the sizes on the original plans." Many of the problems are due to discrepancies between the new maps which have been drawn using eye-in-the-sky satellite technology and existing records.

However, not every mistake is a result of the variation between the old and the new. Roy Lambourne, an Oxen-based rural consultant and land agent, says some of his clients have received maps with extra fields on them or with parcels of land missed off completely.

Mr Lambourne says this is particularly concerning because the new maps will be used as the basis for future IACS payments. But a spokeswoman for the RPA said farmers shouldnt panic. "There is time if you have a problem to contact us. We have a year to roll this out." IACS-payments for 2003 would not be affected, she added.

Not everybody is convinced the RPA will be able to handle a deluge of problems. Richard Wordsworth, IACS adviser at the NFU said: "Its track record hasnt been that good, but we are waiting to see how they handle it. It is still early days."

Christopher Monk, head of farming at Strutt & Parker, warned: "This might open a can of worms. The RPA may have turned over a new leaf, but I am not confident on its past record." He also thought it was unfair that farmers would have to pay for advice to sort out any errors. "The RPA should pay. These maps are for its advantage." &#42

Every farm in the country has now been mapped from above using satellite technology. But concerns over accuracy are beginning to mount.