A campaign group has succeeded in forcing the Home Office into a U-turn on a law which would have banned the public from right-to-roam land near the Prime Minister’s country home.
The land, at Beacon Hill, half a mile from Chequers in Buckinghamshire, had been included in controversial regulations which would have meant walkers risked being arrested for venturing on to access land.
The Open Spaces Society (OSS) spotted that a parliamentary order made it a criminal offence to walk on Beacon Hill, which overlooks the Elizabethan mansion which has been the official residence of premiers since 1921. This was despite an assurance by a Home Office minister that the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) would not affect areas normally used by walkers.
Beacon Hill was designated access land by a previous piece of Labour legislation, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
Now the Government has removed the land in question from the order banning the public. Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the OSS, said: “Fortunately we spotted this error in time and the Home Office has admitted it got it wrong and has been able to rectify its mistake.
“This new law of criminal trespass on designated sites is deeply worrying and we shall have to watch it closely.”
Human-rights group Liberty has condemned the provisions of the SOCPA, saying “This is a significant attack on our traditional rights to free expression and assembly.”
Prime Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown says he will not use Chequers as his weekend retreat, preferring it to be the venue for international summits and ‘brainstorming’ sessions with civil servants.
- The OSS has warned organisers of a June Yorkshire music festival that they cannot force people to pay while the event takes place.
It says Beverley Racecourse is registered common land and the public therefore has the right to walk and ride horses without charge, even while the event – Music on the Meadows – is happening. The OSS also says the Environment Secretary’s permission is needed to put up fencing on the land, and it is now too late to do so.
The festival is due to feature Queen and Beach Boys tribute bands.
General secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “The promoters need to know that the public’s rights of access for recreation will continue to exist during the Music on the Meadows event.
“Therefore no-one can stop the public from exercising them while the music is playing. And they cannot be charged the entrance fee of £20.
“So it was probably an unwise decision by Russells’ Promotions to hold their event here at all.”