Labour gives walkers the right to roam ... but not the right to Rover

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TWO legs good: four legs bad. Ministers will this week reverse the Animal Farm slogan, when they unveil details of their plans to open up much of Britain's wildest countryside to the public.

Walkers will be allowed for the first time to wander freely across four- and-a-quarter million acres of mountain, moorland, heath, downland and common land - some 12 per cent of the entire land area of England and Wales. But they will not have the right to take their dogs with them. In other words, the right to roam will not extend to the right to walkies.

The plan, which will be greeted with hilarity by the Opposition, is bound to cause an outcry from dog-lovers and should provide plenty of work for lawyers, as walkers already have the right to take dogs on public footpaths.

As reported in the Independent on Sunday two weeks ago, the consultative document, to be published on Wednesday, will give landowners a brief period to open up their land voluntarily. If they fail to do so, legislation will be introduced. But the document states: "Greater access to open countryside is for people. It should not automatically mean greater access for their dogs."

It accepts that "many people enjoy walking in open countryside with their dogs", but adds that they can cause "a nuisance" by disturbing wildlife, worrying livestock and soiling pastures. It asks for views on the extent to which they should be banned.

A government source said last week: "New Labour is all about rights and responsibilities. If we give the dogs rights, how do we explain to them that they have responsibilities as well?"

n Architect Lord Rogers is to head a government drive to intensify house building on "brown field land", Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott will announce tomorrow. Lord Rogers will head a committee to seek out unused land suitable for building in Britain's existing urban areas.

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