1 August 1997

Widening of access to

countryside will cost

TWO major areas of farmland – downland and heathland – are to be included in the governments proposals to increase public access to the countryside, according to environment ministers.

The admission surprised landowners, who had hoped additional access provision would be restricted to mountain, moorland and common land.

Although the governments access consultation paper is not due until September, landowners have now been told by environment minister Michael Meacher to expect the proposals to incorporate downland and heathland.

The Country Landowners Association, which last week claimed the right to roam over mountain, moorland and common land would cost the farming industry £2bn, said its figures would have to be revised upwards if additional farmland areas were included.

Ewen Cameron, CLA president, said a report by Noel Russell, professor of agricultural economics at Manchester University, had concluded that extra access would force livestock farmers to alter their land management policies, increase the costs of public liability, cause damage to farm infrastructure and hit farmland values.

Compensation

Speaking at the Game Fair at Corby, Northants, Mr Cameron said he would be pushing for compensation from government, and that the CLA would be prepared to take legal action as far as the European Court of Justice if members received no financial support.

Alan Woods, CLA access adviser, added that landowners had a good moral and legal case for compensation, though the organisation would study the consultation paper closely.

Jim Ward, director of agricultural research with land agents Savills, said land and particularly country estate prices could be considerably affected by access. "Sales do fall through because of the access issue, and landowners also face additional insurance costs," he said.

But, Ramblers Association chairman Kate Ashbrook was sceptical about the £2bn figure. "A theoretical work based on guessing and estimating, without even knowing the extent of land to be covered in any eventual legislation, has been blow out of all proportion by the landowners in an attempt to scare the public," she said.

And Labour MP Paddy Tipping, who introduced his own ten minute rule Bill on access to the countryside last week, complained the figures were exaggerated. "To put the £2bn into context, I calculate that it could purchase 10m acres of mountain and moorland at an average cost of £200/acre.

"The minister and the House need to be reminded that there are only 12m acres in total of mountain and moorland in England and Wales," he added. &#42