Leading Article: A chance to improve the countryside for all

SOMETIMES PEOPLE cannot resist a cliche. Ramblers' groups have described the Government's decision yesterday to appoint Ewen Cameron as chairman of the new Countryside Agency as like "putting an alcoholic in charge of a pub". Surely, as Mr Cameron was president of the Country Landowners Association, it is more a case of gamekeeper turned poacher.

Ramblers are worried that Mr Cameron is being appointed to water down the Government's promise of a right to roam. The evidence for this accusation is his background in leading efforts to stymie ramblers' access to the land. He is credited with inventing the idea of "voluntary access", which would have made it hard for walkers to go any distance, while maintaining a semblance of openness.

But Mr Cameron has stated that the presumption in favour of access "must be the better route". To this end the Agency is embarking on an extensive mapping of the countryside to define what the right to roam really means.

Mr Cameron has talked sensibly and persuasively about his new role. He sees the Countryside Agency as working on behalf of those who work in the country and those who own it, as well as those who, from time to time, visit it.

The Government has created the Countryside Agency by amalgamating the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission. By doing so, it brings together people and landscape, which were previously apart, for the purposes of developing a plan to maintain and improve the countryside for the benefit of all.

A host of countryside issues need urgent attention. Housing heads the agenda. Young people find it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the country. Villages will die without their presence, and townies might not find an empty countryside quite as picturesque as our present one.

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