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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: We will deal with that in a minute. I say another word to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, on his intervention. It probably would not be the case that a regulator would require different grazing common right holders to join in an application for a direction. That cannot be right.
Baroness Byford: I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his response. In relation to Amendment No. 292, I appreciate that where there are many people who share common grazing a joint approach is the most sensible way. I fully understand that.
I am slightly less happy with the response to Amendment No. 293. I would like to think about that. I thought my understanding, having read Hansard on the debate in the other place, was that Mr Meacher said that it would not be a cost that had to be borne by land managers. I will look carefully again in my papers. My understanding was that the agency would bear quite a bit of this cost. Perhaps it is something that we can discuss. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: We consider it is important that any guidance produced by the Countryside Agency under Clause 31(1) for the national parks authorities and the Forestry Commission regarding their duty under Chapter 2 and Clause 20 respectively takes full account of the need to conserve flora, fauna and geological and physiological features.
I am delighted with the debate we have just had with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. However, there is no provision for expert advice from English Nature to be
By contrast, the Countryside Council for Wales, which has a similar power to issue guidance in Wales under Clause 31(2), will be able to take full account of those conservation interests because it combines the wildlife functions of English Nature and the access functions of the Countryside Agency in Wales. An integrated approach will automatically be taken.
To ensure that a properly integrated approach is taken in England, the Bill should be amended to provide that guidance in England should be prepared and given jointly by the Countryside Agency and English Nature. This amendment would achieve that aim. Having heard our earlier debate, I should have thought that the Government would be pleased to accept the amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The guidance which the Countryside Agency may issue under Clause 31 will cover directions which may be made under any part of Chapter II. The Bill provides that the relevant authority must take account of any advice given by English Nature in considering whether to make a direction under Clause 24. That is the appropriate time for English Nature to provide expert guidance on whether restrictions or closures for nature conservation purposes are needed.
However, we agree entirely that it will be desirable for the guidance, in so far as it sets out the criteria for directions to be made under Clause 24, and, indeed, generally, to take into account the views of English Nature. We expect the Countryside Agency to consult English Nature in drafting the guidance. The Secretary of State will wish to be sure, in approving the guidance under Clause 31(3)(a), that such consultation has taken place and that the draft guidance properly reflects the views of English Nature.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to the difference with regard to Wales. The Countryside Council for Wales, in addition to its role as a countryside body, performs a similar role to that of English Nature, as the noble Baroness recognised. However, although part of the same body, the countryside and conservation aspects of CCW function separately where appropriate. We expect that, where it is given a power in parallel with the Countryside Agency, the functions will be carried out in a similar way to that of England.
I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that the guidance issued under Clause 31 will indeed take into account the advice of English Nature. English Nature will also be able to provide advice on specific cases of directions under Clause 24. Therefore, I am sure that the noble Baroness will not feel it necessary to press her amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 296 to 298. They are straightforward amendments which deal with means of access and the agreements made with respect to those means of access and failure to comply on the part of owners.
In the past 15 years or so we had a system under which we paid owners of land not to do things, but I believe we have now moved into an era of more positive management. Ideally, the Bill would give access authorities a duty to take action to prevent important means of access being stopped up or otherwise being made unusable rather than paying an ongoing amount of owners not to restrict access.
Amendment No. 296 deals with the fact that where owners are in breach of an agreement, an access authority can give notice of only 21 days to the owner to take action. We feel that the figure of 21 days is too short; we believe that it should be extended to 40 days. Much of this Bill applies, for example, to land over 600 metres. There may be periods of 21 days when it would be difficult to carry out the work and an owner might be lucky enough to be on holiday for two weeks and so have only a week in which to comply. We feel that 40 days would be far more reasonable.
Amendment No. 297 simply introduces the idea that if the local authority undertakes the work, for which the owner would be charged because the owner had failed to comply, it is reasonable, even under those circumstances, that the local authority should show evidence of obtaining quotations for the work, which is normal practice. The work could be expensive if it concerned a bridge. It is reasonable to expect the local authority to make an effort to obtain different quotations for such work.
Amendment No. 298 introduces a reason for appeal that does not appear in the Bill. It seems reasonable that such a reason for appeal against enforcement may be that different work was proposed. The owner may have planned to provide a different means of access; for example, the access authority may believe that a simple bridge is the answer whereas the owner wishes to provide stepping stones which may take longer to install. I beg to move.
Lord Williamson of Horton: I support Amendment No. 298. We need to ensure that where there is a possibility of appeal it genuinely covers reasonable cases. Even at this time of night one can think of reasonable cases, covered by the amendment, that are not covered by the Bill as it stands. Therefore, I believe that we should make this change. I hope that the Government will accept it. I have categorised all the amendments that we have discussed tonight as good, bad and gung-ho. We have finished with the gung-ho amendments and I believe that this is a good one, so perhaps we can adopt it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Chapter III allows an access authority to enter into agreements to construct a new means of access, or to maintain or impose restrictions on stopping-up or altering an existing means of access. If agreement cannot be reached it makes provision for an access authority to secure the means of access by carrying out any necessary works at its own expense. These provisions will allow access authorities to improve or to secure access to or across open country where there are insufficient facilities for walkers at present.
Clause 33(2)(b) gives the access authority specific powers to pay landowners for entering into such agreements, including agreements restricting the stopping-up or alteration of an existing means of access. A restriction may include agreeing not to stop up an opening in a wall, or agreeing not to put a lock on a gate. Amendment No. 295 would remove the power for authorities to make payments for such agreements.
In general, we would not expect access authorities to make payments of any substance to landowners in return for not doing something. That is just the sort of transaction from which we have tried to steer away in the context of Part III of the Bill. But agreements are, by their nature, voluntary, and it may be that an access authority will find it worth while to enter into such an agreement for a small consideration, which may secure a valuable means of access for long-term use and may perhaps be part of a larger agreement covering a number of different means of access, some of which are being constructed or improved. The means of access could then be shown on maps and guide books with reasonable certainty about their future security.
If a landowner were to hold out for an unreasonable payment in return for entering into such an agreement, it would be open to the access authority to do nothing. If, in the absence of an agreement, the landowner stopped up a means of access, the authority could seek to proceed by way of notice to unblock it under
Turning to Amendment No. 296, we believe that, where a landowner entered into an agreement to maintain or construct a means of access of his own volition, it is only right that there should be some mechanism to ensure that the terms of that agreement are fulfilled. Clause 34(1) therefore provides that, if the landowner fails to discharge his responsibilities under an agreement within the time specified, then the access authority may ensure that the agreement is fulfilled by carrying out the works themselves.
It is not the concept of reasonable notice that is in question, but what period should be considered as reasonable. We believe 21 days' notice is more than reasonable. We are talking about cases where a landowner has previously agreed to provide or enhance a means of access to his land--perhaps in return for some payment--and is subsequently in breach of that agreement. He would be fully aware that, in breaching the agreement, he left himself open to action by the access authority to carry out the work itself, as he would be if he had not agreed. So any notice by the authorities of their intention to carry out work would not be unexpected. In those circumstances 21 days' notice provides ample opportunity for the landowner to undertake the work himself, should he intend to do so. Should he not intend to honour the agreement, we see no reason to extend the potential period of delay by requiring the authorities to give no less than 40 days' notice. I therefore cannot support that amendment.
Amendment No. 297 aims to ensure that the provisions for recovery of costs from landowners is fair. It may wish to do that where it carries out works which a landowner has already agreed to carry out. I am pleased to see that the amendment takes account of the principles of "best value" which all local authorities must follow. However, it is not necessary to include such a provision in the Bill. The principles of "best value" apply to all access authorities and already mean that the authority must carry out appropriate procedures for letting contracts, so there is no need to duplicate that requirement in this legislation.
Finally, Amendment No. 298 provides for appeals against a notice under Clause 36(3) on the grounds that the works are not required to give reasonable access to the land or that the means of access should be installed elsewhere, or that any of the works in question have already been carried out. Where an access authority is unable to enter into an agreement to provide a means of access, it may serve notice on the landowner or the occupier of an intention to carry out works to secure such a means of access.
This amendment would enable landowners to appeal if they believed that different works should be carried out such as a different type of means of access. That might be, for example, because the access authority proposed the installation of a gate but the landowner felt that a stile or a kissing gate would be more appropriate. That would be covered by the ground in sub-paragraph (a)--that the works were not necessary to allow reasonable access. The situation which the Bill may not cover is where an access authority had, for example, proposed works to install a stile, but the landowner wanted a gate fitted instead.
We agree that there could be legitimate reasons why landowners might want to appeal against the notice on the grounds that different works are needed and that they might not be able to do them under the terms of the Bill. We are therefore happy to consider the matter further with a view to tabling an appropriate amendment at the Report stage but I am afraid that I must resist the first three amendments.
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