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ROLLING PROGRAMME TO OPEN COUNTRYSIDE FOR RECREATION

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Walkers will have the right of access to open countryside and...
Walkers will have the right of access to open countryside and

registered common land a year early in some parts of England after

plans for a rolling programme have been announced by rural affairs

minister Alun Michael.

Right of access under Part I of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act

2000 to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land

previously off-limits to the public will be will now be introduced

region by region.

In a written statement to parliament, Mr Michael said:

'I am pleased to announce that we have decided that the new right for

the public to walk on mountain, moor, heath, down and registered

common land in England will be rolled out on a region by region

basis. We are convinced that the best approach is to give walkers the

right to walk in open countryside and on registered common land as

early as possible. Rather than wait for the mapping process to be

completed for the whole country, I intend to open up land in the

first two regions, the South East and Central Southern England, to

public access during the summer of 2004.

'This is a demanding timetable which requires conclusive maps for

those regions to be available, restrictions on access and necessary

exclusions to be in place and guidance and codes of practice to be

available to walkers and landowners. It is most important that all

these mechanisms are in force in each region before any access land

is made available to the public to ensure that the interests of both

land managers and walkers are safeguarded. We expect all access land

to be open not later than the end of 2005.

'Opening some access land

more than a year earlier than originally planned shows our commitment

to making the provisions of Part 1 of the Countryside and Rights of

Way Act 2000 a reality. Because of that Act, people will be able to

walk on land in some of the most beautiful areas of the countryside

that were previously off-limits and rural businesses in those areas

will benefit from new trading opportunities.

'In bringing the new right of access into force, we have maintained a

careful balance between the rights of walkers and the rights of land

managers. It does not affect land managers' discretion to use or

develop land as they think best, taking into account other

regulations governing changes of land use. In the vast majority of

cases it is likely to have very little impact on operational

practices. Owners and occupiers will be able to close their land for

up to 28 days each year for any reason, and to seek further

restrictions or exclusions of access where necessary.'

The original intention was to allow access to all eight English

regions, which are being mapped individually by the Countryside

Agency, to be opened at the same time, by the end of 2005.

But today's announcement means that the public will have access to

some areas earlier, where the mapping process is complete. This means

the South East and, Central Southern England should be open for

access during summer 2004.

NOTES

1. The government's Public Service agreement target is for the new

right to walk across mountain, moor, heath, down and registered

common land in England to be introduced no later than the end of

2005.

2. The Countryside Agency is charged with identifying on maps

registered common land and open country across England under the

Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000. The Act creates a new right for

walkers to walk across this land after conclusive maps have been

published by the Countryside Agency and all restrictions and

exclusions applying to the land are in place. These access rights are

not currently in force. The Countryside Agency has divided England in

to eight areas and is mapping these through the following steps:

- publish a draft map of registered common land and open country -

this is subject to three months of public consultation;

- publish a provisional map of registered common land and open

country which may include changes made in light of comments

received on the draft map - people with a legal interest in the

land included on the provisional map have a right to appeal against

their land being included and have three months from the

publication of the provisional map to do so;

- publish a conclusive map of registered common land and open country

which includes changes made in the light of the outcome of appeals.

The Countryside Agency expects conclusive maps to be issued 6 to12

months after the issue of provisional maps. The new rights and

responsibilities will come into force after conclusive maps are

issued and all necessary restrictions and exclusions of access are in

place.

3. Provisional maps for the South East and Lower North West and the

draft map for Central Southern England have been issued. Further

information about the draft and provisional maps is available on the

Countryside Agency websiteand from the mapping helpline on 0845 100 3298.

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