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Landowners `still blocking rights of way'

MPS CALLED on the Government to push ahead with a statutory right to roam yesterday after campaigners claimed to have new evidence that landowners were continuing to block rights of way.

The Ramblers' Association published a report that it said proved the Country Landowners Association had done little to meet its promise to open up footpaths across private land.

It claims that the leaked report into footpaths on a farm in Wiltshire was a perfect example of how the CLA had failed to improve public access.

The assessment, carried out by the CLA on behalf of the Countryside Commission, found that bridleways were blocked and that a special access site was restricted by electric fencing.

The Ramblers' Association said that the case proved that the pounds 70,000 of public money given to the CLA to improve access had been wasted. Since the site visit to Wiltshire a year ago, little improvement had been made.

Under a scheme called Access 2000, the CLA was given the cash to fund a full-time worker to tackle farmland nationwide where footpaths were blocked. Yet out of 20 planned assessments of problem land, just nine had been carried out and campaigners say that just 20 acres has been opened up in 18 months.

Gordon Prentice, MP for Pendle, said the report was further evidence that landowners could not be trusted to voluntarily guarantee public rights of way. He will ask the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to investigate allegations that the CLA wasted public funds.

The CLA claimed that in the past five years a total of 1.1 million acres had been opened up voluntarily by landowners.

It said that the Countryside Commission had not complained about the assessments and had even been part of a steering group to oversee its officer's work.