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MAFF TO GET CONTROL OF 'RIGHT TO ROAM'

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Control of the country's footpaths and the 'right to roam' is to be given to officials from the Ministry of Agricul...
Control of the country's footpaths and the 'right to roam' is to be given to officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in a move environmentalists compared to 'putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank', reported The Independent on Sunday (p7).
They will also be given responsibility for preserving the finest landscapes and for increasing tourism in the countryside under a plan mentioned - but not spelled out in detail - in Labour's election manifesto. The ministry has consistently opposed moves to open up the countryside to walkers, and encouraged and financed the destruction of much of its beauty over the past 50 years, according to the newspaper.
Its handling of this year's foot-and-mouth crisis has both closed footpaths across the country and caused immense damage to tourism. Three-quarters of the country's footpaths are still out of bounds, although Maff admits there is no case of the disease, anywhere in the world, has been caused by walkers. The English Tourism Council estimates the ministry's path-closure policy, predominantly aimed at protecting a£570m meat export trade, will cost the tourism industry£5bn and throw 250,000 people - more than all the farmers in the country - out of work.
Prime minister Tony Blair made a last-minute decision to include in the Labour manifesto a promise to set up a new department of rural affairs, made up of Maff and some parts of the DETR. Until trecently Mr Blair wanted to abolish Maff altogether, after being profoundly disillusioned and angered by its bungling of the foot-and-mouth crisis - but he reluctantly accepted this was impossible in the current climate.
He plans to give the new department responsibility for the Countryside Agency - which currently reports to John Prescott's DETR. The agency is in charge of protecting England's national parks and areas of outstanding national beauty, of safeguarding its footpath network and implementing the right to roam, and of encouraging rural tourism and businesses.
But Mr Blair has resisted suggestions that it might also be put in charge of protecting wildlife and of English Nature, the government's wildlife watchdog.
The plans would also transfer Maff's responsibilities for land drainage to the DETR. This is an important move because it would give the environment department a responsibility to prevent floods, and make it harder for Maff officials to sponsor destruction of wetlands for agriculture.
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