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Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

Background

7.There is a long history of people desiring to have greater access to open countryside. Since the turn of the last century some reforms have been made, for example the Law of Property Act 1925 gave people the right of access for air and exercise to metropolitan and urban district commons, including large areas in the Lake District and South Wales. In 1949, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act provided for the creation of public access to open country by agreement or order: some 50,000 hectares of access are thought to have been secured under this Act. Despite such measures, it is estimated that there are still around 500,000 hectares of open countryside in England and Wales where access is not permitted and a further 600,000 hectares where public access occurs on an informal or de facto basis(1).

8.In February 1998 the Government issued a consultation paper, Access to the Open Countryside in England and Wales(2), which invited views on how best to secure more and better access to open countryside. The paper sought views on both statutory and voluntary approaches to achieving greater access, and estimated that the total extent of mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land was some 1.2 to 1.8 million hectares or around 10% of the land area of England and Wales. The consultation paper set out key criteria against which the approaches would be judged — extent, quality and permanence of access, together with cost, clarity and certainty, and monitoring and enforcement.

9.The consultation paper attracted over 2,000 responses from a wide range of organisations and individuals, including recreational users, landowners and local authorities. Of these, a large majority supported the introduction of a statutory right of access. The Government undertook an analysis of the responses and consulted further, including with other Government departments, relevant statutory agencies, and organisations representing landowners, recreational users and conservation interests.

10.In the light of the results of consultation and of a study of the costs and benefits of different approaches for securing greater public access, the Government decided to legislate to create a new statutory right of area access as part of a wider package to improve public access to the countryside. Ministers announced the decision to Parliament on 8 March 1999(3). The Government also published its conclusions in The Government’s Framework for Action: Access to the Countryside in England & Wales(4) outlining a package of measures for improving public access to the countryside. It also issued an Analysis of Responses on Access to the Open Countryside of England and Wales(5) and, separately, an Appraisal of Options on Access to the Open Countryside of England and Wales(6).

11.When the Government’s Framework document was published in March 1999, the Government asked the countryside bodies and the Forestry Commission to report later in 1999 on access to other types of open countryside, such as woods, coastal land and riverside(7). The Countryside Agency recommended in October 1999 that the statutory right of access should be extended to coastal land such as beaches and cliffs. This recommendation is reflected in the inclusion in the Act of a power to extend the statutory right to coastal land by order.

1

Source: Appraisal of Options on Access to the Open Countryside of England and Wales, published by DETR March 1999 (Full Report): Price £45 ISBN 1 85112 158 5. Available from DETR Publication Sale Centre, Goldthorpe Industrial Estate, Goldthorpe, Rotherham, S63 9DL. Tel. 01709 891318, Fax. 01709 881673. A summary document is available free of charge from: DETR Free literature, PO Box 236, Wetherby LS23 7NB. Tel. 0870 1226236, Fax. 0870 1226237. Published on the internet at: http://www.wildlife-countryside.detr.gov.uk/cl/index.htmBack [1]

2

Published by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Welsh Office, February 1998. Available free of charge from: DETR Free Literature, PO Box 236, Wetherby LS23 7NB. Tel. 0870 1226236, Fax. 0870 1226237. Published on the internet at: http://www.wildlife-countryside.detr.gov.uk/cl/index.htmBack [2]

3

Hansard, House of Commons Debates. Cols. 22-33.

4

Published by DETR March 1999. Available free of charge from: DETR Free Literature, PO Box 236, Wetherby LS23 7NB. Tel. 0870 1226236, Fax. 0870 1226237. Published on the internet at: http://www.wildlife-countryside.detr.gov.uk/cl/index.htmBack [4]

5

Published by DETR February 1999 (Full Report): Price £10 ISBN 1 85112 159 5. Available from DETR Publication Sale Centre, Goldthorpe Industrial Estate, Goldthorpe, Rotherham, S63 9DL. Tel. 01709 891318, Fax. 01709 881673. A summary document is available free of charge from: DETR Free literature, PO Box 236, Wetherby LS23 7NB. Tel. 0870 1226236, Fax. 0870 1226237. Published on the internet at: http://www.wildlife-countryside.detr.gov.uk/cl/index.htmBack [5]

6

See footnote (1) for full reference.

7

These recommendations can be viewed on the internet, via the DETR website at: http://www.wildlife-countryside.detr.gov.uk/cl/index.htmBack [7]

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