18 December 1998

Tories – drop right to roam

THE Conservative Party wants increased public access to the countryside but has called on government to drop its plans to legislate for a right to roam.

At a press briefing in the House of Commons, shadow environment minister and former farm minister Gillian Shephard said legislating to increase public access was like "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

She accused the government of adopting a confrontational approach and narrowing the debate into a class war against those who had inherited privileges.

"The government could increase public access overnight by publicising the existing rights of way if it wanted to," said Mrs Shephard.

But she said certain legislation to clarify the rights of walkers and landowners would be justifiable.

The government should redefine the laws of trespass so both walkers and landowners knew their rights and introduce legislation on owner liability and rules to control dogs in the open countryside, she added.

It should also consider the effect of increased access on land values and quantify the costs associated with increased access and who would pay.

In deciding their stance, the Conservatives consulted six countryside and wildlife groups, all of which favoured increased public access.

The groups consulted included the Council for the Protection of Rural England. "We agree with the CPRE that those who live and work in the countryside have a legitimate voice in the access debate," she said. &#42