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ACCESS TO COUNTRYSIDE - BALANCE IS KEY TO NEW RESTRICTIONS SYSTEM

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The government's programme for opening up the countryside to improve ...
The government's programme for opening up the countryside to improve

public access and enjoyment reached a milestone today, with the

laying before parliament of regulations on how restrictions and

exclusions of access will operate.

The regulations are the latest stage in the implementation of the

Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, under which the public will

have a new right of access to England's mountain, moor, heath, down

and registered common land by the end of 2005.

Alun Michael, minister for rural affairs, commented:

'Our aim is to strike a balance between the benefits to be gained

from increased public access and the practical considerations which

must be taken into account to make this work successfully.

'These regulations demonstrate the government's commitment to

broadening access to the countryside in a way that is sensitive to

the needs of land managers.'

The regulations were drawn up after an extensive consultation

exercise, launched in December 2001, which sought the views of a

diverse range of organisations, lobby groups, and conservation

bodies.

The resulting restrictions regime is designed to combine maximum

flexibility for land managers with minimum bureaucracy necessary to

give confidence in the system. The regime is one tool for managing

access effectively, and land managers are encouraged to explore

informal management techniques before seeking directions to restrict

access.

They will be able to restrict or exclude access to land for up to 28

days a year for any purpose, and those with a legal interest in the

land will be able to apply for additional restrictions or exclusions

where this is necessary for land management, safety and fire

prevention reasons.

Restrictions or exclusions on grounds of nature conservation or

heritage preservation can also be made by the relevant authorities -

the national park authority where access land falls within a natio nal

park, the Forestry Commission where land voluntarily dedicated for

access is comprised mainly of woodland, and the Countryside Agency in

all other cases. Restrictions and exclusions for defence and national

security purposes may be imposed by the secretary of state for

defence or the home secretary.

The restrictions system will open for applications in each region in

time to allow the necessary restrictions to be granted before access

commences. To ensure this, applications will, in some cases, need to

be made while the maps of access land produced by the Countryside

Agency are still provisional. If appeals are made against decisions

it may not always be possible for these to be resolved before the

right of access comes into force and, in these cases, land will be

open while the appeal process takes place.

An overview of the restrictions regime is published on the Defra

website.

Detailed guidance to land managers will be issued by the Countryside

Agency before the restrictions system opens for business in the lead

mapping areas in 2004.

Notes

1. The regulations were laid on 24 October 2003 and will come into

effect on 17 November 2003.

2. Part I of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides for

the creation of a new statutory right of access on foot to 'access

land' - usually open country and registered common land - in England

and Wales.

3. The regulations were made under section 32 of the Act, and allow

landowners and tenants to restrict public access to land for any

reason for up to 28 days each year by notifying the relevant

authority. Applications for restrictions or exclusions can be made to

relevant authorities for the purposes of land management, to avoid

danger to the public from things done on the land, or to prevent fire

during exceptional weather or vegetation conditions. Relevant

au thorities can also give directions to restrict or exclude access

for nature conservation or heritage preservation purposes, and the

Secretary of State for Defence or the Home Secretary can do the same

for defence or national security purposes.

4. The Access to the Countryside (Exclusions and

Restrictions)(England) Regulations 2003 apply to England only. There

are separate regulations for Wales.

5. The Regulations build on the proposals set out in the Department's

consultation paper 'Consultation paper on proposals for regulations

on the exclusion or restriction of access to open countryside and

registered common land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act

2000', issued in December 2001. The department will issue a summary

of responses to the consultation paper, to be available from

http://defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/cl/accessopen.htm

6. The government in November 2002 affirmed that the new right of

access will be introduced on a region by region basis. The first two

regions are due to open in the late summer of 2004. This timetable

will be subject to when the Countryside Agency can issue its

conclusive maps, which is dependent on the number and extent of

appeals made on the provisional maps.

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