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Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I see the point of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. However, I have one concern. The land to which she refers as "neglected land" could, in the mean time, have developed considerable conservation value. There is nothing in the amendment which would protect that value. If the land has developed its value to such an extent that it becomes a site of special scientific

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interest, there is not a problem because the rest of the Bill looks after it. However, if it has simply become valuable in terms of its local biodiversity and therefore needs to be at least considered before it is destroyed, I would be worried that her amendment would prevent that happening. Apart from that, I can see what the noble Baroness is aiming at. In essence, I approve of what she is trying to do.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, can my noble friend tell us what she means by "overgrown"? Does she mean, for example, bracken? Very often that is combined with the sort of circumstances to which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, referred. Is she thinking of bracken or scrub of some kind? I would have thought that those are the kind of conditions which ramblers would enjoy. That is part of the fun of rambling. I cannot understand the concern of those who suggest that the amendment is important.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I add my concerns to those of my noble friend Lady Nicol. I can understand the purpose behind the amendment but feel that it is rather too wholesale in its application.

The sorts of powers described to clear overgrown land are fairly unfettered. Scrubbing up of land is not always a bad thing. Scrub is a natural part of the landscape and may well be enjoyed by walkers. Areas of scrub, tall herbs and young trees are developed when grazing is reduced and it is often very good for birds. It provides shelter and food sources for butterflies and other invertebrates. I would be concerned that the wholesale powers to clean up scrub could well go beyond what is the intent of the amendment, which is simply to clear paths for access. That could be interpreted to mean the wholesale tidying up of access land, which could be bad for the diversity of the landscape and the wildlife it contains. It is a tenet that is true, and often misunderstood, that tidiness in the countryside is almost always a vice and not a virtue.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain what is meant by the phrase, "a competent authority"? It seems to be somewhat imprecise. I can imagine circumstances in which there might be more than one authority which thought itself competent to deal with such a matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have limited sympathy with this amendment, to the extent that, as a child, I used to get scratched and have my clothes torn by going through scrub. My children have done it too and I confess that there have been times when I have done it as a grown-up. But that is part of being in the countryside. I would not like our countryside to be cleaned up too much. What is the fun of picking brambles unless one gets scratched at times; indeed, would there be any brambles if the scrub of which they are part was destroyed?

Although the amendment is clearly well meant and has been carefully thought out, it produces too many difficulties. We have been at pains to reassure

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landowners and farmers that the right of access will not interfere with their freedom to manage the land, subject to existing constraints. But this amendment would interfere with that freedom. It would not place any burden on landowners. But it would give local authorities the power to say, "We believe your land management is interfering with public access and intend to do something about it". There is a hint of the municipal park in that which does not make me happy.

Of course, lack of active land management is a bad thing. But that does not mean that land management has to be universal all over the landowner's land. My noble friends Lady Nicol and Lady Young made the point about conservation of wildlife. I agree with that point and do not need to repeat it. I just do not believe it is right for local authorities to interfere with matters like this and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, on reflection, will think so as well.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I am sorry that this amendment met such a lukewarm, if not hostile, response. But I shall take it as friendly criticism. I have no intention of creating municipal parks. I enjoy the countryside sufficiently to know that brambles and bracken are desirable rather than otherwise.

As I indicated at the beginning, I am concerned with the small minority of cases where the countryside is overgrown to such an extent that it is impossible to walk. It was only in those circumstances that I wanted this clause to bite.

I was asked who the competent authority would be. It is set out in the amendment that it would be a local authority, the Countryside Agency, or the Countryside Council for Wales. I would hope that at least the Countryside Agency could be absolved from any desire to sanitise or make municipal parks out of the natural countryside. However, I suggested that if people were unhappy about the nature of the powers in the amendment, it might be possible to use the local access forum before any decision is made. That is not in the amendment as it stands because I was not thinking about those forums at the time. But that might provide the kind of break which noble Lords would consider salutary.

I hoped to receive a more enthusiastic response. I must read the debate and see whether or not I can obtain further support. I doubt it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 84:

    After Clause 16, insert the following new clause--

("Visitor Management facilities
Visitor management facilities.

.--(1) Where access to access land gives rise to a need for the provision of new or improved visitor management facilities there shall be a duty on the access authority to provide funding for the provision and maintenance of the facility.
(2) Where agreement on the need for such facilities or the cost of providing them cannot be achieved, the parties shall have resort to a dispute resolution process prescribed by the Secretary of State.").

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The noble Earl said: My Lords, we come back to touch in a more limited way on extra costs that might be imposed upon owners and occupiers. The Government reassured us from time to time and, when discussing Amendment No. 80, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, "Substantial costs will not arise" and "landlords will not be required to spend money as a result of the provisions of this Bill".

In the debate on Amendment No. 72 I commented on the points raised by my noble friend Lord Peel and the extra costs of fencing in and signing the mines that were at the moment open--those pre-1872. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said at that time that there would be help with finances. But that does not appear on the face of the Bill.

My particular concern relates to what are termed "visitor management facilities". If the situation arises where it is clear that something is required in order to facilitate access to an area in a sensible and measured way but the access authority does not spend the money there will be a mess. For instance, there might be a mass of cars at the side of the road instead of being properly co-ordinated and parked; there may be a lack of signage in order to help people to find the areas where they can be provided with information such as the best route from where they parked their car.

So the purpose of Amendment No. 84 is to say that there "shall" be a duty on the access authority to provide funding in the event of a need for a visitor management facility. I included a second clause which provides that, if there is a dispute--this might arise between the landlord and the access authority--then it should be resolved by the Secretary of State. The amendment therefore is designed to help in a potentially difficult situation and should benefit those who wish to have access to the countryside as well as the owners and occupiers. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, we agree with the aim of Amendment No. 84 in seeking to provide adequate visitor facilities. But we do not agree that the duty should always lie on the access authorities. First, as I mentioned in Committee, it is frequently the local pub which provides many of the facilities such as toilet blocks and car parks and relies on the trade from them. Secondly, the provision may be subject to other sorts of partnership.

Therefore, while I cannot support the amendment, I agree that access authorities need to take seriously their obligations in ensuring that there are visitor management facilities, perhaps by helping people to bid for funding to enhance their facilities or in drawing together public/private partnerships. So the aim is worthy, but we cannot support the amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government are in full agreement with those who wish to see facilities provided where they are needed to help manage the right of access for the benefit of walkers and land managers alike. We also agree that landowners should not generally be obliged to pay for such facilities. As was explained in Committee, the Bill already allows for facilities to be provided at

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taxpayers' expense; for example, as information points under Clause 19 or means of access land under Chapter II.

It is fair to say that the Bill allows for the possibility that an access authority may seek a contribution from a landowner in respect of an agreement to create or improve a means of access. The means is simple: there may be occasions when the landowner or farmer may benefit just as much as walkers from the provision of facilities. Or perhaps the access authority has offered to install a stile but the farmer would prefer a more expensive new gate. It could be agreed that the authority contributes, for example, the equivalent of the cost of the stile and the landowner contributes the additional amount in order to ensure that he acquires the suitable facility.

However, the key point is that there is no requirement for a landowner to pay towards the cost of facilities. If it is not possible to conclude an agreement between the landowner and the authority, the authority will have the power to carry out specified works at its own expense. Here, the landowner will not be required to pay a penny.

We would be fearful of opening the way for costly and bureaucratic disputes by imposing a duty on access authorities to provide new visitor management facilities "where they are needed". We believe that access authorities will have the necessary knowledge and expertise to decide where facilities are needed and the Bill already allows them to do that. The best way forward is open, constructive negotiation with those having an interest in the land and on the basis of discussion with others concerned, including the local access forum. Landowners will, in any case, be free to make representations to their local authority--or, indeed, to the local access forum--about where they believe facilities are needed and the form they should take.

Perhaps I may add a note of caution about the number and type of facilities that are appropriate to open countryside. We would caution against a sea of car parks and visitor centres. Major new facilities of that nature are unlikely to be needed often but there may be places, particularly near towns, where the landowner wants to be involved in the provision of a car park which could be a commercial venture allied to other facilities.

The facilities which are likely to be commonly needed--for example, stiles, gates and notices--are catered for under Clause 19 and Chapter III of the Bill. I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that the new clause is not necessary and I hope that he will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.

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