Letter: Right to roam

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The debate about access to open countryside (letters, 10 March) is dogged by the specious argument that the land in question can be fairly compared to a residential garden and that any access to it is therefore an infringement of privacy.

Most of this land is designated for agricultural use, which has a clearly defined legal status and is quite separate from that of a domestic garden. For example, agricultural land is not subject to the same planning regulation as residential land, so that farmers may erect buildings where they wish without regard to their design or impact on the local environment.

Agricultural land costs about 1 per cent of the price of residential land and, should residential consent be given, the landowner receives the other 99 per cent of the value ("betterment") at the normal rate of tax. Residential land also attracts domestic rates, which are not payable on agricultural land, which attracts subsidies instead.

So if the owner of 1,000 acres of open countryside wants to exclude public access to his property then he should have paid pounds 500m for the land and then about pounds 5m a year in rates. He should also be subject to the same planning constraints as the rest of us.

Owners of large country estates should realise that they do not in fact "own" the land but only the right to occupy and farm it. The Government's latest announcement on access to open countryside is just the beginning.


Tetbury, Gloucestershire