Labour Conference: Landowners may face access laws

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS CAME under pressure to introduce "right to roam" laws yesterday as a report revealed that landowners had failed to give greater access to the countryside.

The Environment minister Michael Meacher made clear to delegates that landowners needed to increase access to privately owned mountains, moors, heaths, downs and commons to three to four million acres.

He denied that the Government's plans to solve the dispute by voluntary agreement with landowners was a climbdown, indicating that legislation could still be introduced.

"No one is suggesting new rights to walk over ploughed fields or through gardens," he said. "But we do not accept that the legitimate rights of property owners mean that walkers have to be kept off uncultivated mountain, moorland, heath or down for any good reason."

A survey by the Ramblers' Association, seen by The Independent, found that the landowners' "access register", compiled to prove landowners' commitment to extending access to their land, lists only paths already open to the public.

Gordon Prentice, MP for Pendle, said the right to walk in open country was a fundamental principle of the radical tradition in the Labour Party.

"Either we have the right to roam by the next election or we don't," he told the conference. "It is as simple as that. Even New Labour has to choose sometimes and we have to choose on this issue." He condemned the landowners' access register as a "con trick".

Twenty-five Labour MPs will stage a walk today in support of a statutory right to roam.

Mr Meacher said fines for causing pollution would rise.