Labour has already made up its mind over access – CLA
By Tony McDougal
LAND owners leader Ewen Cameron has written to the Prime Minister accusing the government of making up its mind over future access policy before its consultation exercise has begun.
In the letter, Mr Cameron said he had received "disturbing reports" that government had already decided to introduce just one option – statutory imposed access – with no resources to help land owners cover either management or other associated costs.
With the access papers release believed to be imminent, Mr Cameron said there was a critical need for the government to ensure, as a matter of urgency, that its consultation exercise was genuine.
The department of environment, transport and the regions rejected the allegations, saying the only non-negotiable aspect was the governments manifesto pledge of greater freedom of access.
But Mr Cameron insisted that the government seemed to be favouring only one interest group – walkers – rather than the rest of the country community.
"Labours claim to be the real party of the countryside, made at last weeks Labour Party Conference, rings hollow if an important consultation exercise that affects the lives and livelihoods of people who live and work there excludes their voice at the outset. This plays into the hands of those who say that Labour is still an urban dominated party.
"All we are asking at this stage is that governments consultation paper on access includes the voluntary management option. It will then be up to us to show that voluntary agreements provide a better, more practical and cost-effective option – and we believe we can do so," said Mr Cameron.
David Beskine, Ramblers Association spokesman, said he was astonished by the tone of Mr Camerons letter, particularly as environment minister Michael Meacher had told a fringe meeting in Brighton last week that the CLA would not challenge the principle of greater access.
"Is the CLA president saying one thing to one minister and another to the Prime Minister?" he asked. "Mr Cameron has to understand that one of Labours central points in its manifesto was the right to roam and Labour now have a huge majority. Has Mr Cameron just realised that Labour have won the election?" *