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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am afraid that I must disappoint the Minister. I do not feel that he has demonstrated that because there is a difference between my amendment and what is on the face of the Bill. Clause 57(2)(a) refers to,

but it does not specify that that should be off-road.

Nor does the clause strengthen the local authority's arm when it wishes to make, perhaps with a local landowner, an unpopular move in trying to link, as in

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my county, two bridleway networks which are separated by about 100 yards of busy main roads. I believe that my amendment would strengthen local authorities in justifying making maximum off-road opportunity. I hope that the Government may think again on this matter between now and Third Reading because I shall return to it at that stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 185 and 186:

    Page 36, line 11, at end insert--

(""cycle track"--
(a) means a way over which the public have the following, but no other, rights of way, that is to say, a right of way on pedal cycles (other than pedal cycles which are motor vehicles within the meaning of the Road Traffic Act 1988) with or without a right of way on foot; but
(b) does not include a way in or by the side of a highway consisting of or comprising a made-up carriageway (within the meaning of the 1980 Act);").
Page 36, line 17, after ("footpaths,") insert ("cycle tracks,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 187 not moved.]

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 188:

    After Clause 57, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) For the purposes of this section a route is a route of any shape not more than ten miles in length beginning and ending at the same point and open to the public for one or more of the following purposes--
(a) walking,
(b) wheelchair access,
(c) cycling,
(d) riding on horseback,
but not for use by mechanically propelled vehicles.
(2) In any case where a highway authority initiates a scheme to provide a new route in its area which will involve two or more of the actions listed in subsection (4) below, it may declare that the scheme is to be treated under the provisions of this section as a route to be developed as a whole (an "integral route").
(3) In any case where a highway authority makes a declaration under subsection (2) above that a proposed new route is to be promoted as an integral route the following provisions shall apply--
(a) in making a determination as to whether or not to approve any applications for any of the actions listed in subsection (4) below in respect of any part of the route, the authority or the magistrates' court, as the case may be, shall base their decisions on the relevant considerations set out in the 1980 Act, taking into account the benefits and disadvantages to the public of the new route as a whole;
(b) where the authority or the magistrates' court, as the case may be, makes a determination against any one or more of the applications relating to the integral route, the highway authority shall forthwith withdraw all applications which have been submitted for the purpose of creating the route;

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(c) if as a result of a reference to a determination by the Secretary of State one or more of the applications relating to the route is rejected, the Authority shall forthwith withdraw all applications which have been submitted for the purpose of creating the route.
(4) The actions referred to in subsection (2) above are--
(a) the creation of a footpath or bridleway under section 25 or 26 of the 1980 Act;
(b) the dedication of a highway under section 30 or 31 of the 1980 Act;
(c) the stopping up or diversion of a highway under section 116, 117, 118 or 120 of the 1980 Act;
(d) the diversion of a footpath or bridleway under section 119 or 120 of the 1980 Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is an improved version of my Amendment No. 419 moved in Committee. In a sense, it is still mainly a probing amendment.

If it be true that this country deserves, and the public want, a rights of way network which suits the needs of the people in the 21st century, then it follows, in my view, that we need a legal structure which enables us to get from where we are to where we shall want to be, as indicated by the proposed highway authority improvement plans.

In debate in Committee the Minister said:

    "We believe that the existing legislation provides adequately for the kind of schemes that the noble Lord ... has described".--[Official Report, 9/10/00; col. 141.]

Those are schemes where changes to two or more rights of way are necessary to create a new route for walkers or cyclists which is more convenient than the existing route. I give the example of where a walk or cycle track can be made of suitable length, beginning and ending near where people live.

In saying that, I admit that up to a point the Minister is right. The law as it stands makes it possible to achieve such changes, but the costs, delays and uncertainties involved in the present legal structure are such that very few such schemes are promulgated by highway authorities; a few are, but the majority are not.

Another reason why highway authorities do not promulgate such schemes is that they have no obligation to do so, although they have a permissive power to do so. Some authorities have been criticised by the Commissioner for Local Administration for using resources to implement such schemes at the expense of other schemes that are mandatory. The commissioner did not, as I believe was suggested in Committee, question the value of such schemes per se but the inappropriateness of authorities using scarce funds for permissive schemes to fulfil their statutory obligations.

If, over time, the Government want to create a right of way network worthy of the 21st century they will have to do one of two things: either they will have to make the improvement of the network a statutory obligation on authorities and provide the money with which to carry that out under the present law, or they will have to change the law so that, while it still

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protects the interests of user groups and of land managers, it is simpler and less expensive to apply. I know which alternative I would choose. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I have great sympathy for the amendment. As noble Lords may be aware, for about six years I chaired a rights of way committee in Suffolk where we made great efforts to develop circular routes. We now have about 70 available in the county. Some of those schemes were quite easy to put together but others have been difficult. The noble Lord is right when he says that cash-strapped local authorities sometimes simply give up when it appears to be difficult. I do not believe that we should berate them for that as they have to decide on the best ways in which to use public money, and it is public money that would be used for developing such routes.

On a positive note, I mention the Parish Paths Partnership, formerly funded by the Countryside Commission and now funded by the Countryside Agency. That is a scheme under which grants are given to individual parishes to carry out improvements to their rights of way networks. The work includes promoted routes and the production of a leaflet. The routes have to be kept clear and they have to be well signed. In this case, problems with landowners tend to be minimised because schemes are promoted by local people rather than by anonymous council officials. This is an excellent initiative that has given some good results.

I am concerned that in general terms Countryside Agency funding for rights of way work and countryside work in general is falling because increasingly the focus is turning to what we may call socio-economic work. We should be careful because in many cases the Countryside Agency is the only body with sufficient funds to carry out this kind of work.

5.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in Committee we had a good debate on this subject, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, although a number of other noble Lords spoke, including the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Even I was tempted to remind the Committee that immediately before the war London Transport used to publish a series of threepenny booklets of circular walks within easy reach of London by using London Transport. My parents' family used those booklets, so I am entirely sympathetic to this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, wants to overcome any obstacles to the routes being created, as we all do. They could possibly be overcome by making this a duty on local authorities; they could be overcome by forcing landlords whose land obstructs the creation of a route to create a right of way, but I do not believe that that would be practicable. Indeed, the amendment does not seek to do that. It ensures that all applications for the orders or agreements forming parts of a route are considered by the order-making authority as a whole so that if one is rejected, it follows

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that all the other applications are withdrawn. That does not achieve his objective or the objective of us all any more than the existing situation. Of course, we have sympathy for what he wants to achieve, but the issues are more intractable than would be implied by his amendment.

It would not be appropriate to require local authorities to create new schemes, any more than it would be to require them to divert or close rights of way. It must be for the authorities, whether Suffolk County Council or any other authority, to exercise their discretion on the use of their powers and the allocation of resources. The duty to prepare improvement plans which is in the Bill should focus their minds.

Existing legislation under the 1980 Highways Act allows the consideration of public path creation or diversion orders to be taken concurrently with extinguishment orders. The extent to which a creation or a diversion order is made in association with an extinguishment order would, if confirmed, provide an alternative path or way to that proposed for closure and may be taken into consideration in the determination of the extinguishment order. I believe that complicated relationship is at the heart of what we are talking about. Account should, of course, be taken of the convenience of the alternative path compared with the one which would be extinguished.

The key point is that proposals relating to public rights of way will result from the assessment that Clause 57 requires local highway authorities to undertake when preparing improvement plans. They must assess the extent to which local rights of way meet not just the present needs of the public, but also likely future needs of the public and the opportunities that local rights of way provide for open-air recreation, the enjoyment of the authority's area and exercise. They will be expected to consider the availability of and the potential for provision of routes suitable for the purposes provided for in the amendment.

In Committee I gave an assurance, which I repeat now, that we intend the statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State to contain clear and adequate advice to authorities that they should, where appropriate, address circular recreational routes in the preparation of their rights of way improvement plans.

I agree about the importance of encouraging more co-operation between different parties on rights of way issues. There are many landowners who are willing to do so and we hope that the new rights of way improvement plans will act as a catalyst in that respect. Regrettably, a small minority of landowners, by no means representative of the vast majority, are less willing to tolerate people exercising public rights of way over their land and the Bill contains provisions for dealing with them. We shall debate that matter in the next group of amendments.

I hope that it will be accepted that within the limits of what we can require local authorities to do, and do by agreement with landowners, we have gone as far as

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we can. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for saying that this is a probing amendment and for moving it in that sense.

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