Hampshire County Council

Recreation and Heritage Policy Review Committee

18 November 2004

Executive Member - Recreation and Heritage

18 November 2004

The County Council's Approach towards the Management of the new rights of access to Open Access Land. (Sometimes, misleadingly, referred to as `The Right to Roam').

Report of the Director of Recreation and Heritage

Item 14

Item 14

Contact: Andrew Smith, Ext 6003 email: andrew.t.smith@hants.gov.uk

COUNTRYSIDE AND RIGHTS OF WAY ACT 2000

S1(2) -"access authority"

    (b) in relation to any other land [other than a National Park] means the local highway authority in whose area the land is situated;

1. Summary

1.1 The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000(Part 1) created new rights of access on foot to areas of land which have been mapped as `open country' or Registered Common Land, and which are not subject to existing rights of access or which are not exempt because of the use of the land. These new rights of access have already come into effect in two areas of the country, the very south-east of the country and the lower north-west. December 14th 2004 has been set as the date for the commencement of the new rights in Central Southern England (Area 3), which includes Hampshire. Hampshire County Council, as the Access Authority for the area, has new powers, although significantly not duties, in relation to the implementation and management of the new rights of access.

1.2 The County Council is advised on matters relating to access to the countryside by the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum - a statutory body whose members represent landowning and farming interests, recreational user groups and other countryside interests. This Forum made site visits in June 2004 to some sites which had been mapped and met on October 14th to consider how the County Council should exercise its new powers. The following report will briefly set out what these new powers are and will also describe the land that has been mapped and which the public will be entitled to access after December 14th. It will include information on the lessons learnt from the experience of implementing the new rights in Area 1 (the very south-east of England) and will also refer to comments and advice given by the Forum.

1.3 Examples of the questions which the authority specifically asked the Forum for advice are:

1.4 The views of the Forum were also sought on :

2. Background

2.1 It is Part 1 of the CRoW Act which confers upon the local highway authorities the responsibility of being the `Access Authority' for the area and which therefore gives them certain powers to ensure the new rights are physically exercisable and the areas of land clearly identifiable on the ground. These powers include the responsibility for ensuring that;

2.2 Unlike work associated with much of the management of the rights of way network, all of these new responsibilities are only powers rather than duties. There is no budget directly from central government for this work although there is funding available to Access Authorities through the Access Management Grant Scheme. This is government funding, administered by the Countryside Agency, available to Access Authorities to enable them to use these new powers.

2.3 The County Council has already successfully bid for funding to enable it to collect information about the work that is needed to make this land available in Hampshire and to promote responsible use of it. Having collected this information, the next stage would be to bid to undertake the work required. Before doing so, it is important for the authority to be clear upon its approach and the priority to be given to the exercising of these new powers.

3. The Extent of the New Rights of Access in Hampshire

3.1 Recently the Countryside Service has conducted a sample study of the land that has been mapped as `open country' and Registered Common Land in order to understand the measures that could be required. Of the 191 individual parcels of land that were initially mapped, 39 were removed following successful appeals. Therefore, 152 sites appear on the Conclusive Maps for Hampshire covering an area of 6715 hectares. Included within this figure are sites where existing rights of access take precedence and therefore Part 1 of CRoW does not apply. (The Crown Land of the New Forest is subject to existing rights and therefore not subject to Part 1 of CRoW although this has been excluded from these calculations simply because it skews the figures for the amount of land that is subject to the new rights).

3.2 A handful of sites are expected to be exempted from public access due to the way in which they are managed, e.g. racecourses, golf courses or land immediately surrounding houses or buildings.

3.3 Ninety of the 152 sites have been visited and an outline assessment made of the work that would be required to make the land accessible. Of the 90 sites visited, 57 are already available for public access and most of these are actively managed for the public to visit. Most are managed by the County, District or Parish Councils, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust or the National Trust. Typical examples include:

3.4 Therefore only 33 of the 90 sites which have been inspected are currently not available for the public to access.

3.5 Just 4 of these are `island sites' where public paths or roads do not enable the public to actually reach the land. These sites include an area (17 hectares) of Watership Down, north of Overton - a delightful downland slope with good views and nearby Litchfield Down (19 hectares), again a downland slope with good views. Negotiations with landowners would be required to secure access to these sites.

3.6 A further three sites are adjacent to the roadside but are overgrown and totally inaccessible to the public. These sites are registered commons alongside roads and are all at Hurstbourne Tarrant. All 3 above have some roadside parking available, but due to the density of the vegetation it was impossible to enter the land to assess potential benefit. Each site would require at least one gate.

3.7 Seven sites were found to be adjacent to existing public paths or roads but access to the land is prevented by fences or locked gates. A first audit of these sites suggests that a total of 16 gates would be required in order to make them reasonably accessible. These sites include:

3.8 Three further sites are not accessible from the roadside, due to fences or locked gates and are also heavily overgrown. These sites are:

3.9 There are a further 14 parcels of land which do not fit neatly into any category and yet would require consideration as they are not necessarily fully accessible.

3.10 This sample of 90 sites represents approximately 66% of the land which should be available to the public as a consequence of the Act. The areas of land covered in this initial audit are spread across most of the county and therefore the pattern of the findings is likely to be replicated across the remainder of the areas to be inspected.

4. Experience From Area 1

4.1 September 19th 2004 saw the introduction of the new rights in the lower north-west area of England and in five access authority areas in the very south east of England (Area 1). Of the county authorities covering this area Kent CC and East and West Sussex County Councils are currently completing, or have recently completed, their bids for funding from the Countryside Agency's Access Management Grant Scheme. Officers are reporting, perhaps surprisingly, that despite recent publicity, the introduction of the new rights has, as yet, generated very little noticeable interest. Telephone calls to the officers at these councils from landowners or the general public have been very few in number. As is the case in Hampshire, the majority of the mapped land in these areas is already open and managed for public access and much of the remaining land includes small isolated parcels of land which would appear to be of little value to the access network. However, with the exception of Surrey County Council, the counties in Area 1 are all bidding for funding from the Access Management Grant Scheme to carry out works on areas of access land.

5. The Access Management Grant Scheme

5.1 This Grant Scheme is the only source of government funding to help access authorities to exercise the new powers relating to the management of Access Land. The AMGS, which is administered by the Countryside Agency, will target resources to those areas with most need, based upon likely demand and use, the conservation value of the land, land types and existing rights. The scope of the Scheme has recently been broadened and therefore the Countryside Service is confident that the proposed measures and priorities as set out in this paper would qualify for funding.

6. Implementing the New Rights in Hampshire

6.1 At their recent meetings and with the benefit of site visits, the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum resolved that `ideally' all those sites that are mapped, and which ought to be accessible, should be opened up. The Forum added that this work should be balanced with the effect on the County Council's existing countryside resource, both financially and in staff time, and should take into account the public benefit offered by each parcel. The Forum acknowledged that many sites would be of little or no value at all and therefore would be of very low priority.

6.2 The Forum also agreed that, as a general guide, sites which are currently accessible and used by the public ought not to be a priority for the County Council. In submitting an initial bid for funding therefore, it is proposed that the Council should not bid for work on land that is already managed for, or used by, the public. If, over the coming months through our work with the managers of these areas, it becomes apparent that measures could be taken to improve access or manage it more effectively, then a further bid for funding may be necessary.

6.3 Therefore, in planning for the implementation of the new rights, the County Council proposes to bid for funding from the Access Management Grant Scheme which would first enable the authority to ensure access to those sites which appear to afford benefit to the public and which, at the moment, are inaccessible.

7. Assessing Public Benefit

7.1 In categorising sites as to whether or not they offer benefit to the public the following explanation of `public benefit' was agreed by the Access Forum.

7.2 If the answer to any of the above questions is `yes' then the Forum agreed that the land should be considered as being of benefit to the public.

8. Agreeing Standards of Access

8.1 There is no guidance as to how many points of access there should be to a parcel of land and what these points of access should be, only that this should be something that is agreed between the access authority and the owner of the land. Whilst a plan of each site will need to prepared in agreement with the owner or occupier of the land, the Forum agreed that there ought to be, as a general guide, at least one means of access to a parcel of land from every public path or road that is adjacent to the site.

8.2 Signing is also quite a subjective matter. The Countryside Agency have developed a new national symbol to mark the boundaries of access land. The purpose of the symbol is to provide the public with a consistent and easily recognisable sign which has the minimum impact on the landscape. Where visitor pressure is `low' or where blocks of access land are scattered, the Countryside Agency suggests that the access symbol may be the only signage required. For those sites that are currently not managed for public access this guidance from the Agency would seem to be a reasonable approach to follow. The Forum agreed and added that the signs should usually be limited to just the main access points to the site and should be limited to the symbol only with no additional text.

8.3 The Countryside Agency have also developed a sign to inform the public where the new rights end. This is simply the access symbol with a red line through. The Agency and Defra guidance is that this symbol should be used sparingly in order to avoid clutter in the countryside. It should perhaps therefore only be used in Hampshire where there is a real possibility of confusion, for example on Access Land where there is access to adjacent private land via a gate or path. The Forum agreed but added that where these signs are warranted they should be made available to the landowners free of charge. It is not intended that these signs be used on land away from Access Land simply to explain that the new right do not apply.

8.4 The County Council has the powers to seek the removal of signs that could mislead the public about their rights. It was agreed with the Forum that in order to avoid confusion and the possibility of conflict the County Council should work to ensure the removal of any signs of this nature.

8.5 The location of these information points will be dependent upon the agreement of the owners of the land and the location where they are most likely to be seen by people exercising these new rights, e.g. a car park in area of a significant amount of access land. It is anticipated that initially less than 10 of these will be necessary in the county and that the Forum could advise on their location at a later date.

8.6 The County Council will, of course, have regard to the Disability Discrimination Act in all matters relating to the accessibility and signing of the land.

8.7 The Council has powers to make and enforce byelaws. If any are deemed to be necessary the Council proposes to seek advice from the Forum on a case by case basis.

8.8 Whilst the County Council has the power to appoint wardens, the limited amount of `new' access land and the experience from authorities in Area 1 suggests that the appointment of new members of staff to undertake this function will not be necessary. Indeed, Government guidance to access authorities on this subject is that it will not normally be necessary to appoint wardens. The Countryside Service now has area based teams, which include countryside rangers and rights of way officers and their maintenance teams, and are well placed to ensure the implementation of the limited measures set out in this report. It is possible that, as people become more familiar with these new rights and their expectations increase, the need for additional staff to ensure that the access is available and exercised responsibly will also increase. If this proves to be the case, the Council will seek funding through the AMGS and will also seek the advice of the Access Forum.

8.9 Many landowners have concerns regarding the management of the new rights on their land. Therefore, it is proposed that the Council includes in its application to the AMGS a bid for sufficient funding in order to respond to requests from landowners to help minimise the impact. This may be via signing measures or cutting certain paths to guide people away subtlety from more sensitive areas. The details of these measures will not be known until officers discuss in detail with individual landowners what works are required. To date no discussions have taken place with individual landowners in relation to any of the land identified. Clearly once the County Council's approach has been endorsed by Members, discussion and co-operation with landowners will be crucial to achieving the most satisfactory results. The Access Forum strongly agreed with this idea.

9. Where To Start ?

9.1 Out of the first 90 parcels inspected there would appear to be just 7 that fit into the category of being inaccessible and yet are potentially of value to the public. As the 90 sites represent 66% of the total number of sites across the whole county then it would seem reasonable to conclude that there may be no more than 12 sites which could provide benefit to the public if they were made accessible. An audit of the 7 sites we have seen suggests that a total of 16 gates would be required to make the sites available, indicating that approximately 28 would be needed in total. The unit cost of installing a extra wide kissing gate according to the AMGS is £350 meaning a total of £9800. It is anticipated that 75% of this cost would be met by the AMGS leaving the County Council to find £2450 or, more likely, if the gates can be sourced more cheaply, then the Council's contribution will be just staff time.

9.2 Signing these sites to the proposed agreed standard would require approximately 150 access symbol discs at a cost of £2 - again 75% of this cost could be met by the AMGS, leaving the Council to find just £75. Added to this would be the Council's contribution to any management measures which are required and the provision of on-site information boards.

9.3 If it is agreed that the County Council works to ensure that all sites should be made fully available, then on the basis of the information gathered to date, it is reasonable to assume that there will be approximately a further 26 sites of this nature, i.e. those sites which are not fully accessible and which have very little clear public benefit. The cost of making these sites available could be in the region of £20-30,000 although again the AMGS ought to meet the majority of this figure. Further research could be done on these sites to assess the work needed to make them accessible to the standards outlined above. However in light of the comments above regarding the practical implications and the perceived absence of any real benefit to the public, the Forum advised the County Council that these sites are left until a real public interest is demonstrated.

10. Landowner Consultation

10.1 Two Land Managers' Workshops, organised by the CLA (Country Land and Business Association) were held in Hampshire on 20th October 2004. The Countryside Service asked for time on the agenda for these meetings in order to discuss the approach outlined in this report. Approximately 100 landowners and land managers attended. The comments received at these meetings were very supportive of the proposed approach outlined in this report. Indeed, people who attended from outside the county expressed some disappointment that their authorities were not being as `proactive' or helpful.

10.2 It is important that landowners affected by the new rights of access are aware of the approach that Hampshire County Council may to take. Officers propose to meet with the Hampshire representatives of the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association to discuss the implementation of the new rights of access in more detail.

10.3 In accordance with the priorities set out above individual landowners will be contacted to agree the measures required on their land to make it open and accessible. This means that not all landowners will be contacted early on in the process and some may be unclear as to what is likely to happen on land within their ownership. Opportunities to communicate with these landowners, could therefore be used e.g. HCC attendance at local NFU or CLA meetings or articles in appropriate newsletters or magazines.

10.4 (Ultimately the new rights of access affect relatively few private landowners. Many more, however, will be involved in the management of public access generally. Access is a significant part of the new requirements for receiving farm payment and ideas for access improvements will also have a greater emphasis in the agri-environment schemes. The Access Forum therefore agreed that a meeting, hosted by the Forum, should be held early next year with landowners to help discuss rights, responsibilities and opportunities with regard to access).

11. Public Information and Education

11.1 Telephone calls to the Countryside Service and other contact with the public has demonstrated clearly that there is a lack of public awareness of these new rights and, even where there is an awareness, the true nature of the rights is not correctly understood.

11.2 Whilst it is essentially the role of the Countryside Agency to inform the public about these new rights, the Countryside Service is anxious to contribute to this process locally and to explain the role of the County Council. Funding for this work is available through the AMGS and therefore it is proposed that the County Council includes this work in its initial bid. Measures could include press releases, articles in council newsletters, displays in libraries and other buildings as well as other more low key information on site. A total figure of approximately £5,000 may be required for these measures which again could be part funded by the AMGS.

11.3 The Access Forum discussed this issue and whilst recognising the role of the Countryside Agency, the Forum stressed this is as an important area of work and one which the County Council should contribute to significantly at a local level.

12. Conclusion

12.1 It has been intentional throughout this report to keep a high degree of flexibility in the Council's approach towards the management, and the promotion of the responsible use of, these new rights. Being too prescriptive at this stage may present difficulties later as we do not yet know the interest that these new rights will generate and the value they will have to the access network. It is also important for the County Council to retain the ability to respond to the issues raised by landowners and managers and ensure that the rights are implemented in a spirit of cooperation. As officers meet landowners over the coming months it will be helpful to know that they have a general code of practice to follow rather than a set of hard and fast rules which sometimes may prevent common sense being applied.

Recommendation

Section 100 D - Local Government Act 1972 - background papers

The following documents disclose facts or matters on which this report, or an important part of it, is based and have been relied upon to a material extent in the preparation of this report.

Title : None

N.B the list excludes:

1. Published works

2. Documents that disclose exempt or confidential information as defined in the Act