Memorandum submitted by the Ramblers'
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.
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
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"
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