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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 449A:


On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 64 [Erection of stiles, etc.: needs of persons with mobility problems]:

[Amendment No. 450 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 450A:


    Page 41, line 14, at end insert--


("(2) After that section there is inserted--
Agreements relating to improvements for benefit of persons with mobility problems.
147ZA.--(1) With respect to any relevant structure, a competent authority may enter into an agreement with the owner, lessee or occupier of the land on which the structure is situated which provides--
(a) for the carrying out by the owner, lessee or occupier of any qualifying works and the payment by the competent authority of the whole or any part of the costs incurred by him in carrying out those works, or

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(b) for the carrying out by the competent authority of any qualifying works at their own expense or subject to the payment by the owner, lessee or occupier of the whole or any part of the costs incurred in carrying out those works.
(2) In this section--
(a) "competent authority" has the same meaning as in section 147 above,
(b) "relevant structure" means a stile, gate or other structure which--
(i) is authorised by a condition or limitation subject to which the public right of way over the footpath or bridleway was created, or
(ii) is authorised under section 147 above,
but does not include a structure to which an agreement falling within section 146(5)(b) above relates, and
(c) "qualifying works", in relation to a relevant structure, means works for replacing or improving the structure which will result in a structure that is safer or more convenient for persons with mobility problems.
(3) An agreement under this section may include such conditions as the competent authority think fit.
(4) Those conditions may in particular include conditions expressed to have enduring effect--
(a) for the maintenance of the structure as replaced or improved, and
(b) for enabling the public right of way to be exercised without undue inconvenience to the public.
(5) Where an agreement under this section has been entered into in relation to any structure--
(a) the public right of way is to be deemed to be subject to a condition that the structure as replaced or improved may be erected and maintained in accordance with the agreement so long as any conditions included by virtue of subsection (4) above are complied with,
(b) in a case falling within subsection (2)(b)(i) above, as from the effective date the previous condition or limitation relating to the relevant structure shall cease to have effect, and
(c) in a case falling within subsection (2)(b)(ii) above, as from the effective date the previous authorisation under section 147 above shall cease to have effect in relation to the relevant structure.
(6) In subsection (5) above "the effective date" means--
(a) the first anniversary of the day on which the agreement was entered into, or
(b) such earlier date as may be specified for the purposes of this subsection in the agreement.
(7) For the purposes of section 143 above, any stile, gate or other structure replaced or improved in pursuance of an agreement under this section is to be deemed to be erected under this section only if any conditions included by virtue of subsection (4) above are complied with.
(8) A competent authority may not enter into an agreement under this section except with the consent of every owner, lessee or occupier of the land on which the relevant structure is situated who is not a party to the agreement.
(9) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to competent authorities as to matters to be taken into account for the purposes of this section; and in exercising their powers under this section competent authorities shall have regard to any such guidance issued to them."

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(3) In section 146 of the 1980 Act (duty to maintain stiles etc. on footpaths and bridleways) in subsection (5), before the word "or" at the end of paragraph (a) there is inserted--
"(aa) if any conditions for the maintenance of the structure imposed by virtue of subsection (4) of section 147ZA below are for the time being in force under that section,".").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 450A relates to Clause 64 and an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, at an earlier stage concerning the requirement on local authorities to have regard to the needs of people with mobility problems when authorising the erection of stiles, gates and other stockproof barriers on footpaths and bridleways under Section 147 of the Highways Act 1980.

Section 147 is concerned solely with approvals for the erection of new structures. Amendments tabled in another place drew attention to the fact that there are many existing stiles which might usefully be altered, or replaced with different structures to improve access for disabled people. There is doubt at present whether local authorities have the power to contribute to the cost of making changes to stiles to help people with disabilities and indeed on the extent to which a landowner can replace such structures.

Amendment No. 450A would remove that doubt. It would enable authorities who presently have the power to authorise new stockproof structures to enter into agreements with owners, lessees or occupiers to alter or replace existing structures to make them safer or more convenient for people with mobility problems. The work could be undertaken by the land manager with all or part of the costs paid by the authority, or the authority could do the work or contract the work with the land manager meeting some or all of the costs. That would be a matter for agreement between the parties.

Agreements would replace the previous authorisation under which the stile or gate was erected. I should point out that the amendment replaces the version we tabled before the Recess. The only change is a provision to ensure that previous authorisations would not be automatically extinguished until time (up to 12 months) had been allowed for new works to be completed.

In implementing these new powers, authorities would be required to have regard to statutory guidance. Clause 64 already provides for such guidance to be issued.

The amendment also complements the provisions in Clause 56 which we discussed earlier which require local authorities to plan for the needs of disabled people when preparing their rights of way improvement plans. We believe that that will be a major aid in promoting increased access for people with mobility problems. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: I thank the Government for bringing forward this amendment. The problems of the disabled are not entirely covered by the amendment. Its emphasis is on gates and stiles. For someone with moderate mobility difficulties, the preparation of the surface area is equally important.

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There is little point in having an open gate if one has to go through a quagmire to reach it. I am glad to see this amendment and hope that it will deal with some of the problems we debated earlier.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I warmly welcome the amendment. On 23rd May a similar amendment was introduced in another place by David Heath. Mr Michael Meacher said at col. 836 of the Official Report that he would consider it carefully and that the Government might make proposals at a later stage of the Bill's passage. I am delighted that the Government have listened, considered and responded so speedily and positively, bringing forward the amendment at the earliest possible stage of the Bill's passage through this House.

I should declare that I am president of the disabled drivers countryside access group. Any accessing of the countryside by me in my wheelchair is purely notional to date. The group welcomes the amendment and believes that it would provide local authorities with useful powers.

The clause is enabling. There is no compulsion and no power to make improvements if the landowner objects. I do not think that there should be compulsion. That would be going too far. It would be welcome and helpful if the Minister could underline the Government's commitment--they have demonstrated it by bringing forward the amendment so speedily--to enabling people with mobility problems to get around and enjoy the countryside by stating on the record that the Government hope that local authorities and landowners will co-operate and go along with the spirit of the amendment. The provision is most welcome and will be a real improvement to what is already in the Bill.

Lord Whitty: I am perfectly prepared to respond to the noble Baroness's suggestion that we are committed to trying to ensure that the interests of people with mobility problems are addressed in the improvement plan; and we would hope that authorities and landowners could meet the spirit of that intention in their plans and activity.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to surfaces as well as structures. The degree of doubt which the amendment resolves relates to the powers of local authorities to address structures. There can be other forms of agreement with landowners which might also help to facilitate access. This amendment deals specifically with the powers relating to structures because there is an element of doubt there. We need to ensure that local authorities have that power. That is what I believe these amendments provide.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 64, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 65 agreed to.

11 Oct 2000 : Column 453


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