Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Ramblers' Association (G19)

  The Ramblers' Association (RA) is a registered charity and voluntary organisation established in 1935. It campaigns to protect and promote the interests of walkers, to defend rights of way and the beauty of the countryside, and to secure access to open country. It has over 133,000 individual members and 77,000 members of affiliated clubs and societies.

  The RA has a number of concerns about the rôle and functioning of DEFRA. These are as follows:

1.  The relationship between DEFRA and DTLR

  DEFRA has stated its intention to build a working relationship with DTLR. In our view it is essential that the rôle of DEFRA within the planning system is defined if its first objective of protecting and improving the rural, urban, marine and global environment, and conserving and enhancing biodiversity is to be achieved. To date we have little evidence that such a relationship is being developed. An example lies with the distribution of the Sustainability Fund generated from the Aggregates Levy. Responsibility for it has been given to DEFRA, while the mechanics of minerals planning and the policies that guide extraction lie with DTLR. Not only have we been disappointed that DEFRA has not produced a clear and comprehensive plan for spending the fund, we do not believe that there has been any substantial debate between DEFRA and DTLR on how it should be spent. In our view, the Minerals Planning Division of DTLR has a significant amount of expertise and understanding of the sort of projects that the Fund could be spent on which would support the principle purpose of the levy, and that therefore closer working between the two departments, initiated by DEFRA as the holder of the Fund, is essential.

2.  Resources

  The RA is concerned about the level of funding for DEFRA's Countryside Division, and for its sponsorship of the Countryside Agency. If the provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act are to be fully and effectively implemented then the Division must be properly funded. There have been delays in the bringing into force of the Part I Regulations, following consultation, and delays to the Countryside Agency's mapping timetable. An enormous amount of work remains to be done, in particular by the Countryside Agency, before the access rights under the Act can take effect. In addition, progress with the preparation of the Regulations for most of the provisions in Part II of the Act is slow, and the timetable for their introduction has already been re-written several times. The provision which will enable a member of the public to serve notice on a highway authority requesting it to secure the removal of certain types of obstruction and which will be an important tool in improving the state of the rights of way network has not come into force 18 months after the Bill received Royal Assent.

  The Division is also stretched in respect of the sponsorship of National Parks. Although we acknowledge that funding for National Parks has recently increased, we would like reassurance that additional resources will be made available to allow for the processes associated with the designation of the new National Parks in the South Downs and the New Forest.

3.  Providing a lead to local authorities

  The importance of rights of way and access to the countryside was highlighted by the effective "closure" of the countryside during last year's foot and mouth disease outbreak. This is acknowledged by DEFRA, and a major campaign to encourage visitors back into the countryside has been launched. However, we are concerned that the Department is not giving local authorities a strong enough lead in respect of encouraging them to carry out their statutory duties. For example, if a local authority has failed to determine an application for a definitive map modification order within twelve months of formal service of the application, it is open to the applicant to make representations to the Secretary of State. After consulting with the relevant authority, the Secretary of State may then direct the authority to determine the order within a specified period of time. It is however very rare for the Secretary of State to direct that an order be made within a time limit so there is no incentive for authorities to give this work any particular priority.

4.  The definitive map "cut-off" provisions

  We have grave concerns about the definitive map "cut-off" provisions that were introduced in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. These will mean the extinguishment of most unrecorded historic routes in the year 2026. In our view it is vital that DEFRA makes a commitment to monitor closely the progress being made by local authorities towards completing their definitive maps before the cut-off date so that it is able to assist those authorities which are struggling. There is no mention of this crucial area of work in the document "Working for the Essentials of Life", and the preparation of the Regulations, which will govern this measure, are being accorded no priority.

30 May 2002

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