Landowners bar way to new right to roam

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The Independent Online
LANDOWNERS were condemned by ramblers yesterday after they rejected calls for a legal right to roam through the open countryside.

The Country Landowners' Association said it backed a system of voluntary deals for opening up estates to the public and allowing walkers more access to thousands of acres of moorland, heath and common.

Ian MacNicol, the CLA's president, said landowners wanted to meet public demand for new rights of way with new "Permanent Paths", and that access would be managed to avoid conflict with wildlife, the environment and farming.

He said: "The Government offers two options: we strongly support the voluntary approach and are totally opposed to the creation of a new statutory right of access. We believe that by using voluntary means, rather than compulsion, we can meet the changing demand for access in the way and in the places where it is actually wanted."

But Kate Ashbrook, access chief of the Ramblers' Association, said: "The CLA are going full speed back to the past: a past of failure, frustration and missed opportunities. But the Government is looking to the future now and has sought views on how all 4 million acres of mountain, moor, heath, down and common land can be opened up to walkers, subject to commonsense restrictions."

Michael Meacher, the environment minister, who is a keen rambler, has warned farmers and landowners that if voluntary agreements do not work, the Government will introduce new laws forcing them to open up blocked footpaths. The consultation period granted by the Government ends on Friday.

Instead of the public being free to walk where they wish, the CLA's proposals would mean that local authorities would have to negotiate agreement with individual landowners. Mr MacNicol said that its proposals would cost the taxpayer between pounds 4m and pounds 7m, compared with more than pounds 60m if a statutory right to roam was imposed.

Ms Ashbrook said: "We have 50 years of experience with the landowners' 'big idea' of voluntary agreements between themselves and local authorities. We know, right down to the bottom of our boots, that it has not worked and will not work. The landowners are looking to the past. They have very little new to offer the public or the Government.

Two World War veterans and their wives demonstrated outside the London headquarters of the CLA yesterday. John Bunting, 80, from Sheffield, said: "During World War II, I was welcome on the moors while training. After the war, I was thrown off. I trained as an anti-tank gunner on Midhope Moor, in the Pennines near Sheffield. But after the war, when I came home, it was no longer my country. The gamekeeper was the one with the gun. I was the enemy."