Labour introduced the so-called 'conditional exemption' scheme in 1975
which lets landowners avoid paying tax when land changes hands, providing they give additional public access to the land in question.
To date it has cost the public over£100m, but Inland Revenue
Helen Blenkhorn - president of the Institute of Public Rights of Way
Officers - said: 'This is a scandalous situation for a government so keen on public access.
'It should act now and give local authorities registers of all publicly funded access, so we can manage it in an integrated way and give value for money.
'At present, local councils could squander precious funds by paying
compensation to landowners for 'new' access, when in truth public rights to walk or ride may already exist - albeit secretly - through these tax-exemptions.
'Ramblers are asking for freedom to roam; right now, we'd be happy with freedom to know. We don't have to be told how much tax-relief landowners are getting - we just want to be sure where all these paths and tracks are.'
The call comes as the institute prepares for its annual seminar at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire on Friday 12 June, where top speakers will debate the future of public rights of way and 'freedom to roam'.
IPROW highlights examples of how secrecy can work against the public
- In the Midlands, a landowner initially claimed over£1 million in
compensation when a 1.3 mile footpath was created across his land. The county council creating the path had no idea if he was already being compensated through tax-exemptions.
- Each year the Peak District National Park Authority pays£65,000 to
landowners for 81 square miles of open access, again without knowing if compensation through tax-exemptions already occurs. A notable exception is the Duke of Devonshire, who freely admits that public access across his land attracts tax concessions.
- Cycling charity Sustrans was awarded£42m to create 2,500 miles of the National Cycle Network. It too would not know if it was using public funds to negotiate 'new' routes where some tax-exempt access already exists.
The Inland Revenue claims it reviews access arrangements every five
years but only informs local councils when 'appropriate to do so.' In March chancellor Gordon Brown announced changes that may in the future increase publicity for such access, but this initially relies on voluntary disclosure by landowners and the Inland Revenue's interpretation of 'reasonable' publicity.
The Institute of Public Rights of Way Officers was formed in 1986 and
represents local government countryside access managers, along with practitioners working in the private sector and for access charities.
Enquiries should go to: Lisa Matthews, IPROW membership
secretary, PO Box 78, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 4UP.
Telephone 07000 782318 or fax 07000 782319.