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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for his reply. I particularly welcomed the positive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, about government funding, which have been repeated by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. That will be a great relief to a large number of local authorities and will reduce the number of problems which arise from the four-month period. Adequate funding can work wonders.

I understand the Minister's reasoning on land management issues. I particularly thank him for his comment that the first element of my amendments may form a material consideration. That goes a long way to meet our worst fears about Part II; namely, that it shall result in no net loss. If the result of applications can be regarded as a material consideration that will make a considerable difference, and I look forward to the Government's amendment to deal with that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 368AA:

    Page 61, line 14, at end insert--

(". In section 118(2) of the 1980 Act, after "section 121(2) below" there is inserted--
", and having regard to the likely effect of any dedication under section 25 of this Act which is conditional on the stopping-up order being confirmed"").

The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to link creations to extinguishments. At present a landowner cannot with any confidence agree with an authority that he will not object to the creation of certain paths on the basis that other paths, made redundant by the creation, will be extinguished. The reason for that is that any member of the public can raise objections to a public footpath order. Given that objections may be raised to the extinguishment but not the creation, it is possible that the creation could be confirmed without the associated extinguishment. That problem does not encourage sensible modernisation of the path network by agreement; for example, to create through routes or circular routes advantageous both to the public and the landowner.

Under Section 25 of the Highways Act 1980, a landowner can dedicate a path to the public subject to the condition that the dedication will take effect only if an associated extinguishment is confirmed. Section 25(4) states:

    "An agreement under this section shall be on such terms ... or otherwise as may be specified in the agreement".

The amendment would make it explicit that this factor could be taken into account in the decision on whether the paths should be extinguished by an order under Section 118 of the Highways Act 1980.

The amendment would establish a further link between the creation of a new, useful path to the public in exchange for the extinguishment of an existing path of less value to the public. Wider use of such arrangements could in many cases--obviously not all--help to speed the development of a network better attuned to modern recreational land management and environmental needs.

The existing provisions seem in theory to be flexible enough for a deal to be struck by making dedication under Section 25 dependent on a particular extinguishment. However, the amendment would improve and clarify the position.

Perhaps I may speak also to Amendment No. 369 and to Amendment No. 381 which is to Schedule 6, both of which enable any landowner to apply to extinguish or divert paths. New Sections 118ZA and 119ZA, which grant certain landowners a right to apply for an order to extinguish or divert rights of way, are welcome. However, the right of application is available only to owners of agriculture and forestry land and land used for the breeding and keeping of horses.

The provisions accordingly fail to respond to the legitimate needs of other landowners who have genuine grounds for wishing to close or divert rights of way across their land. Examples of owners who may, but do not necessarily, wish to seek extinguishment or diversion orders could include the owners of gardens;

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land used for clay pigeon shoots; land used for shooting that is not grazed--for example, some grouse moors; land used for hang-gliding by gliding clubs or as aerodromes; land used to exercise horses--gallops, which we discussed previously; or golf courses, which were also previously discussed.

The amendments would remove the limitation that only those owners of land used for farming, forestry or the breeding or keeping of horses may apply for an order. The amendments are understood to have the support of the Countryside Council for Wales. That was mentioned in its briefing on the publication of the Bill. I beg to move.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Northbourne: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 419. I understood that I was to move Amendment No. 368AA. I would not have spoken to the amendment in the same terms as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and I am now rather sorry that my amendment is grouped with the Conservative amendments as they approach the issue too much from the point of view of the landowner. I shall be delaying the Committee for four or five minutes to introduce my amendment because I believe that it involves a point of principle. It is an opportunity to urge a positive approach to the improvement of the rights of way network in this country.

The object of Amendments Nos. 368AA and 419 is to make the legal process less cumbersome and expensive in cases where all the parties have agreed to a scheme to improve a route or to create a circular walk that involves several different rights of way. It is an enormous achievement that over the past 50 years the Ramblers' Association, of which I am proud to have been a member, has preserved intact the traditional rights of way network in this country. It deserves enormous credit for doing so. But no human institution can remain in tablets of stone for ever. There is a need for change now. Has not the time come to move forward?

People's lifestyles today are very different from those of people 50 or more years ago. Today people have cars. They walk less to get from one place to another. What members ofthe public want today, both for pleasure and for health, is to be able to enjoy circular walks which start and end near their homes or in a convenient car park. Such walks invariably include two or more rights of way. The law says that a right of way has to go from point A to point B, so a right of way cannot go in a circle. If we want to create circular walks, we have a problem of working on a system of rights of way rather than on a single right of way. We need new machinery in highway law to make it possible to make positive changes to and improve a group of rights of way when everyone agrees that such a change is desirable.

I am confident that the Ramblers' Association will rise to that challenge. I hope that it will be prepared to take a lead with the local highway authorities in promoting and developing circular walks for the pleasure and health of all walkers. Incidentally, the

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health arguments for promoting more opportunities for people to take exercise by walking in the countryside are compelling. If we reach Amendment No. 416 in the early hours of tomorrow morning, noble Lords will again hear me speaking eloquently on that subject. It is fundamentally important.

Some local highway authorities have been successful in creating circular walks but the vast majority have not. The reason for that is clearly set out in a letter which Ireceived from the environmental health officer of my own county, Kent. He said:

    "I can confirm that Kent County Council believes that the existing legal framework can indeed be difficult and expensive, and ... laborious.

    At present, developing new circular walks is dependent on utilising the existing legal framework and therefore the existing PROW"--

public rights of way--

    "network. If links can not be made in this way, and they usually can't, alternative new routes must be found. To do so, there are three options, all of which are cumbersome, expensive and unsatisfactory ... Wholesale changes, or what may be termed nationalising the network, are difficult to implement and hugely time consuming. They will attract objections ... They are not a 'duty' of the Highway Authority".

Some highway authorities have been criticised by the Commissioner for Local Administration because they have spent money on this non-duty activity rather than on activities which are statutory. The letter continues:

    "My head of Rights of Way ... tells me that wholesale changes are simply not an option under present legislation, since there aren't the resources available in terms of manpower and the potentially huge legal costs that would ensue".

The amendments to which I am speaking, and in particular Amendment No. 419, certainly would not solve all those problems, but they might represent a start.

Amendment No. 419 would make it possible for a local highway authority to designate a coherent group of changes as an omnibus scheme. It would then be incumbent on the authority and the inspector--if one were involved--to consider the scheme as a whole rather than piecemeal. Objectors would retain the rights they hold today. If the amendment were to be adopted, it would help to simplify and speed up the process, as well as help to reduce the cost of providing circular walks. Furthermore, it would make it more likely that authorities would be willing to promote such schemes.

I understand that the Minister has doubts about how exactly my proposals would work. I have no pride of authorship. If the Minister does not like the wording I have used in my proposals, I challenge him to bring forward other provisions which would achieve the same objectives.

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