Proposals would mean no new footpaths after the cut-off date

Proposals would mean no new footpaths after the cut-off date

Walking and outdoors campaigners said Whitehall moves to relax farming regulations could put parts of the countryside out of bounds to recreational visitors.

Farming Minister Jim Plaice announced the coalition Government was accepting 159 of the 200 recommendations made by the Farming Regulation Taskforce.

But the Ramblers expressed its concern that the coalition Government is considering further plans that would hit those seeking to establish footpath rights.

The walking charity said the Government’s push to reduce ‘red tape’ in farming, planning and environmental policy is systematically undermining access rights which have been hard fought for over many years.

And the Open Spaces Society said the announcement signalled a move away from protecting green spaces towards favouring business and developers.

Nicky Philpott, Ramblers director of campaigns and policy said: “With the Government’s Red Tape Challenge already looking to reduce environmental regulation, the proposed changes in planning policy and now today’s farming announcement, it is definitely an uncertain time for walkers.

“There are so many different proposals which could drastically undermine our access rights, potentially closing off the countryside.

“With the economic, health and wellbeing benefits of access and walking clearly understood, it is vital that we protect these rights for future generations. Reducing ‘red tape’ must not simply mean reducing access and environmental protection.

“The public outcry over the forests demonstrates the strong public feeling people have towards the countryside and their local green spaces and any moves to unnecessarily chip away at these rights will be bitterly resisted.”

The Open Spaces Society said the task force report gives no assurance that it will protect green spaces and public paths.

Case officer Nicola Hodgson said: ‘The task force attacked the process for registering land as town or village greens, claiming that there was ‘a proliferation of inappropriate village green designations’ which needed to be addressed.

“That was a highly subjective view and not based on evidence.

“What the task force calls ‘inappropriate’ are in fact the green lungs of communities: land which local people have loved and enjoyed for recreation for many years and which qualifies for registration as a green.

“The Government has responded that it ‘wants to achieve an improved balance between providing protected green space for local communities and reducing the administrative burden on local authorities and landowners’.

“It consulted on this last year but its proposals moved the balance away from protecting green space and in favour of business and developers.

“We shall fight any measures which reduce the ability of local people to claim their greens.”

OSS general secretary Kate Ashbrook added: “It is unclear what the Government proposes for public paths.

“We trust it will implement the recommendations of the stakeholder working group, Stepping Forward, for a streamlined process for claiming routes for the official path-maps. But in its response to the task force, Government merely says: ‘We expect to make an announcement on the consultation later this year’.

‘That is not good enough. In 2000 the Government decreed that the official map would be closed in 2026 to path claims based on historical evidence.

“We are nearly halfway through that period, and nothing has been done to speed up the process and ensure paths can be put on the map.

“In fact the stakeholder group’s recommendations are all about deregulation and cutting red tape, so they should be popular with this Government. We want to see the proposals implemented swiftly because they carry immense public benefit.

“However, if Government tries to add measures which would threaten the integrity of our historic path network, such as making it easier to alter the routes of existing paths, we shall fight them all the way.”

Jim Paice said: “This Government wants to help to create the right conditions for businesses to thrive and remove unnecessary burdens which hold back UK economic growth.

“This is a new approach to working with the farming industry, and shows Defra is committed to freeing up businesses to help drive economic recovery.

“With rising global demand for food, farmers and their skills are in huge demand, which brings business opportunities.

“The response to the Farming Regulation Taskforce commits to clear actions that will make it easier for farmers to get on with their jobs and make the most of those opportunities.”

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