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Lord Jopling: I should like to speak briefly in support of Amendment No.16 which has been moved by my noble friend. I have lived all my life both in and within sight of the Yorkshire Dales and in another place I represented a part of the Dales. I cannot believe that it is the Government's intention to include, even if only by accident, parts of the Yorkshire Dales under the definition of downland. The Dales are totally different both geologically and ecologically.
It would be a mistake if, even by accident, a part of the Yorkshire Dales was to be included in the definition. It does not make sense. When we consider downland, I believe that we are all referring to land with a chalk substrate. I hope that the Government will agree with that point.
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: I should like to support fully what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Jopling, having had a similar but rather shorter experience of living in and representing a part of the Yorkshire Dales. It is clear that the area is completely different from the normal concept of downland. For it to be caught, as it were, in a "sidewind" of the definition for the purposes of the provision, would be quite wrong. I hope that the Government will take that point on board.
After the mapping procedure has been completed and rights across open countryside have been granted, the provision might then be reasonable. However, I think it would be wrong to make an absolute provision granting access to mountain areas in advance of that process. That will cause confusion and give rise to the possibility of illegal attempts being made to pass through the access land. At least until the mapping process has been completed, it would make much more sense to provide that a right of access to a defined mountain area should be given only where a public right of way is already in place.
Baroness Lockwood: I am a little confused by the words of those noble Lords who have spoken in support of this amendment. Several speakers have referred to the Yorkshire Dales. The Dales are limestone dales, but one part of East Yorkshire--the Yorkshire Wolds--is chalk based. The wolds would therefore be excluded from the amendment, were it to be accepted. No doubt confusion could arise when trying to define the Yorkshire Wolds and the Yorkshire Dales.
Lord Greaves: As regards Amendment No. 16, I wish to question whether we should attempt to define areas by their underlying geology. I believe that, as a basic principle, we should not define areas in those terms. What we are properly discussing here are different types of landscape. We should consider the problems and ask, "Is the landscape in a particular area which ought to qualify under the broad definition
When referring to the areas of hill land known as the "downs", it is right to talk about the downlands of southern England, which happen to be on a chalk substrate. However, then to impose a cut-off at the 53rd parallel is not logical because that chalk substrate extends further north, as has just been pointed out by the noble Baroness.
I am not sure that there is a great deal of open country in the Yorkshire Wolds, but there may some--in particular around Flamborough Head. It is therefore illogical to define downland as being land on a chalk substrate, but then to cut off some of that chalk downland because it happens to extend too far north.
A more basic and fundamental issue has been raised here, one that has been touched on by those noble Lords who take a different view from my own. There are areas of limestone grassland which are not known as "downs" in the local parlance, but which nevertheless should qualify as open country and thus as access land under the terms of the Bill. If the word "downs" is being defined in a wider sense to include those, I am happy with that. I do not agree with Members of the Committee, such as the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, who do not want to include them.
There are parts of the Cotswolds--not many--where there is still open limestone grassland. That should be included as access land if similar areas in the North Downs and the South Downs, for example, are included. There are parts of north-east Yorkshire, on the Jurassic limestone on the southern fringe of the north York moors, which should probably be included; they do not qualify as "moor" in the way that most of those moorlands do. There are certainly very large areas of the Pennines and other areas on the carboniferous limestone which are open limestone grasslands and should be included as access land under the Bill.
The question I ask the Government is the other side of the coin to the question being asked by some of the Conservative Members of the Committee: that is, are those areas of limestone grassland, which are clearly open country, which are ecologically very similar to the chalk--but that is a different issue--many of which are open to access at the moment, included in this legislation? For example, there are areas of the Yorkshire Dales and areas of Derbyshire (the Peak District) with open limestone grassland; there are hills in north Lancashire and hills such as Warton Hill and Farleton Hill which are very important from an ecological point of view, particularly in regard to plant life, which have some access at the moment. That kind of land is already being managed by the owners and the conservation bodies to combine access and ecological conservation concerns in a very effective way. Will those be included in the Bill? They ought to be.
I agree that there is confusion over the word "downland". It should be clarified but, in my view, it needs to be clarified in the opposite way to the way in which noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, want it clarified.
Viscount Bledisloe: I had not intended to speak but a point occurs to me in the light of what the noble Lord has just said. The Bill defines "open country" as land which appears to the appropriate countryside body to consist wholly or predominantly of various things, including down. If the noble Lord says that the Cotswolds are down, the Cotswolds are down whether they are fenced or unfenced. There is nothing here which says that "open land" is "land which is open and which ... ". Therefore, if that land is down geologically--or whatever the other definition of "down" may be--it would suddenly become open country even though in reality it is closed country. That is a very worrying concept. I was not moved by the amendment until now. If it is going to be suggested that there is a wider geological or technical meaning to "down", that needs tying down, otherwise it may lead to land being "open" which in no sense of the word is open country at all.
Lord Greaves: The point I was making is that it should be based on landscape, not the underlying geology. Quite clearly most of the limestone grassland in areas such as the Cotswolds and Pennines is enclosed in fields, often with drystone walls; it is not open country and should not be included in access. However, there is some country which is open country, which is not enclosed, and should be included.
Viscount Bledisloe: The point I was making is that anything which is "down" is, under this definition, open country whether or not it is open in reality. If the noble Lord thinks that "open" Cotswolds land should be included, then a clear definition of "down" is needed, such as, "downland means open land which has the following features".
Lord Whitty: This is a slightly disparate group of amendments and we are making quite a meal of it. Perhaps I may take the amendments in order. Amendment No. 13, which is the first one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, relates back to my recent exchange with the noble Earl, Lord Peel. This is a question of fast-track land where there is no highway approaching it--and "highway" is used in the broadest terms and could include the humblest footpath.
As I think the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, was hinting, it may well be that there are forms of access other than a formal right of way or a formal footpath or highway. Land tangential to it may well already be access land, either by law, by de facto access, there may be a permissive path at the discretion of the owner or there may already be wide access. Much of the Lake District would fall into that latter category. It is not only a question of a path or a road but of whether there is access around the area of what would otherwise be
In addition there is the process to which I referred in my exchange with the noble Earl, Lord Peel. The process of restrictions and modifications may well include issues of access. Although I cannot give a guarantee that the outcome will always be that no land without a highway or other form of access to it would be so designated, that is the process for resolving that and other issues. I do not think that we need this amendment.
With the benefit of the geographical knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, imparted to us earlier, one realises that the area of such land in England is relatively small. But there may be temporary and beguiling islands of access land. They will be relatively few and many will be contiguous to areas where there is already some form of access; others could be dealt with through negotiations on restrictions.
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