09 March 1999
Right to roam — What the papers say
A statutory right to access was “one of New Labours most strongly worded pledges,” the paper says.
“Responsible landowners and farmers will cooperate, and continue to provide well-marked footpaths and tracks on their land,” it observes.
The surprise announcement by the government yesterday of a right to roam is a “welcome renewal of [Labours] radical mandate”, the paper says.
“Mr Blair could not afford to divide his party, as well as alienate the wider public, in his efforts to appease Middle England.
“Landowners and the Conservatives, who yesterday in the Commons appeared to act almost as their mouthpiece, should realise that access to uncultivated land can no longer be denied.”
“We had been prepared to greet the expected statement with restrained approval,” the paper says.
“As soon as Mr Meacher stood up in the Commons yesterday, however, it became clear that he had shut his eyes and blocked his ears almost completely to the representations of the farmers and landowners.”
The paper believes that rambling is “more an act of aggression in the class war than a chance to enjoy the smell of country air and the twittering of the birds.”
Two considerations alone seem to have determined Mr Meachers decision to listen to the Ramblers Association and other pressure groups, the paper believes.
“The first is old-fashioned prejudice (who cares about property owners?). The second, a squalid electoral calculation (most voters live in towns – so who cares about those who dont?).”
“The almost unbelievable decision to make the former president of the Country Landowners Association the first head of the new Countryside Agency was, alas, confirmed,” the paper says.
“The ramblers are right to be dismayed,” it continues.
“Here is an agency charged, among other issues, with protecting the publics right to roam and its leader is a rich farmer with a record of having planted potatoes across one of his own farms footpaths.
“The idea that he was the best candidate is absurd.”
It continues: “Rural opinion, still smouldering after the governments mishandling of other countryside issues, is likely to be enflamed by such an initiative.
“Instead of ambling up the path of least resistance to a consensual solution, Mr Meacher has instead yomped towards confrontation,” believes the paper.
Some landowners, the paper tells its readers, will tell ministers to “take a hike to the courts to see this issue contested.
“Consensus and cooperation, not the courts and confrontation, would have been the better way to proceed.”