09 March 1999
Landowners’ fury at right to roam
By FWi staff
RURAL landowners have reacted with anger and frustration to the governments pledge to introduce a statutory right to roam as soon as possible.
The Country Landowners Association accused the government of “destroying the goodwill of the countryside, ” after yesterdays announcement in parliament.
“The decision also flies in the face of every public announcement made by Labour ministers for the past four months,” said Ian MacNicol, CLA president.
“They have deliberately misled the electorate and the press. Where we have offered cooperation, they have chosen confrontation.”
Mr MacNicol said he believed a right to roam legislation would breach European human rights legislation unless landowners received “appropriate compensation”.
“The government is aware that all legislation in the UK must stand up to the Protocol of the European Human Rights Convention,” he said.
“We believe that a statutory right of access without appropriate compensation will fail this test.”
Mr MacNicol described a statutory right to roam as an “expropriation of private land rights” and pledged to take the fight for compensation to the government.
“Now that the government is committed to this course it will discover the huge costs of its approach. Everyone will end up paying for this – even those who are excluded.”
Yesterdays pledge by Environment Minister Michael Meacher for a statutory right to roam will grant public access to mountain, moor, heath, downland and common land.
The measures are expected to cost about £3 million a year to implement, with a one-off start-up cost of £8m for fencing, gates and notices.
Funding for the right to roam would be provided by the government, the National Lottery and local councils, said Mr Meacher.
Landowners would not be entitled to compensation because there was no evidence that land values would fall, he added.
But the National Farmers Union (NFU) warned that the legislation would impose “additional burdens on hard-pressed owners and occupiers of open country.”
NFU president Ben Gill claimed that the plans laid down what was expected of farmers without outling the responsibilities and duties of walkers.
“The governments plans place great importance on recreational need,” he said.
“They do not, however, help farmers and growers to meet the increased costs of visitors or of measures to protect their livestock, business or local habitats.”
The Countryside Alliance said a statutory right to roam would be met with “considerable concern” in the countryside.
Richard Burge, the organisations chief executive said echoed Mr Gills view that the Mr Meachers proposals failed to address the responsibilities of walkers.
“The government proposals disappoint us as the emphasis is on creation of rights for the majority, rather than the protection of the livelihoods of those rural people who reside in the areas targeted by this legislation.”
Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said he would urge the government to keep its promise and fund the right to roam.
“These proposals will only make sense with proper safeguards for farmers and the environment,” he said.
“Liberal Democrats will support this legislative right to roam but will look for a fair deal for the environment and landowners, as well as ramblers.”