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Viscount Addison: My Lords, I should like to give my wholehearted support to Amendments Nos. 201, 202 and 203. What is at issue, as my noble friend Lord Wise said, is whether national park authorities are given the powers to manage the most important recreational resource in their areas: the rights of way.
I regret to have to say that I simply do not believe that the delegation approach being advocated in the guidance will work. My doubts are based on the fact that ever since 1976, when a circular in response to the Sandford Report was published, the Government have been asking that,
Since, in the future, highway authorities will be asked to delegate not to their own park sub-committees but to independent park authorities, they are even less likely to delegate voluntarily. Furthermore, because of local government reorganisation a number of highway authorities will be brand new local authorities. They are not likely to accord priority to giving away powers they have just received. I therefore believe that the difficulties referred to by my noble friend Lord Derwent in Committee will get worse.
Recreational public rights of way are fundamental to the execution of one of the two statutory purposes of national parks, yet responsibility for them remains with bodies with whom the recreational part of the rights of way network is less fundamental. Indeed, national park officers question whether they will be able to carry out their statutory purposes effectively if they have no control of the public rights of way network.
Control of the public rights of way network is necessary not only to ensure that the network can be used by pedestrians or riders, but also to allow proper management of the park resources as a whole. For example, a park might wish to spend money on particular paths in order to encourage movement away from an over-used "honey pot" area.
I illustrate my support for the amendments by referring to a couple of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Wise. On the matter of divided responsibility, it is my understanding that in the Peak District the national park authority has to deal not only with seven highway authorities but also with district councils which have agency agreements with some of those authorities. For example, Derbyshire County Council has an agency agreement with Derbyshire Dales District Council for the removal of obstructions from public paths, and a separate and different agency agreement with High Peak Borough Council, this time for the maintenance of the surface of public paths. This seems a very confusing state of affairs which would benefit immensely from the national park authority receiving responsibility for the management of the rights of way network.
My noble friend Lord Wise spoke of the appropriateness of merging definitive maps. Your Lordships may be interested to note that the Welsh Office appears recently to have accepted that it needs to make provision, as part of local government reorganisation in Wales, for the new councils which are being created to be able to merge the maps they will inherit. Therefore, the principle that there is merit in creating new unified maps for new authorities is clearly established.
Surely, the primary responsibility for management of different rights of way ought to lie with the agency with responsibilities to the particular users. Thus motorways are of national importance and are the responsibility of government. Other metalled roads are of more local or regional importance and are the responsibility of local highway authorities. Footpaths and bridleways are of either recreational or very local importance and in national parks should be the responsibility of those charged with promoting recreation, namely, the national park authorities. I support the amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, mentioned that the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, spoke of his wish to issue invitations to authorities to delegate their rights of way responsibilities to the national park authorities. In the
Lord Feversham: My Lords, I support the amendments. The case for them has been made very well. It is an important group of amendments. After all, national parks are responsible for encouraging people to walk in the countryside. How can they do that effectively unless they control the public rights of way across which all those people will travel?
I have some input to make, from a parish council point of view. When people redraw or look again at definitive maps of rights of way they always have to turn to the parish councils to find out where they run. If people want to alter rights of way they nearly always have to ask the advice of parish councils on how that can best be done.
I am extremely suspicious of any legislation which advises local authorities of the advantage of delegating their powers to somebody else. That is wishful thinking. These amendments are extremely important. I support them wholeheartedly.
Lord Moran: My Lords, I should like to express my strong support for the amendments. The case for them has been made thoroughly by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. If we are setting up independent authorities to run the national parks it is essential that they should be able to control rights of way in particular. If they cannot do that, they cannot run the national parks effectively. I hope very much that the Government will be prepared to accept the amendments.
I recognise the importance of the rights of way network to national parks as elements in securing the promotion of enjoyment of the parks, as the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, said. We are all agreed on that. Where we differ is on the best means of achieving that objective.
I appreciate the strength of feeling among your Lordships that the Government should look again at their policy that the integrity of the highway network and its management should be maintained and that that should be through the mechanism of a common highway authority. Clearly, highway authorities and national park authorities will need to work together in close co-operation to ensure that the network is well maintained, available for use and appropriately publicised.
However, footpaths and bridleways are public highways in the same way as public carriageways, and it does not make sense to fragment legal responsibilities in this way. It is therefore not our policy that national park authorities should be given formal responsibility for the rights of way network in their areas. Highway authorities and national park authorities will have to work in close partnership so as to determine which parts of the network are best dealt with by the highway authority and which by the national park authority. Therefore, we intend to continue to invite highway authorities to enter into agency agreements with the national park authorities so that the new authorities will have day-to-day responsibility for the management of rights of way in their areas. As I indicated in Committee, we will write to each relevant highway authority asking it to consider positively its relationship to the new national park authorities and to enter into agency agreements to delegate rights of way work where it has not already done so.
Those agreements will enable the national park authorities to continue to protect and promote recreational rights of way in a way which can be tailored to meet the particular circumstances of the park. In approaching the issue in this way, rather than through statutory procedures which are the subject of Amendment Nos. 201, 202 and 203 the national park authorities will be able to contribute fully to the day-to-day maintenance and improvement of rights of way in their areas. Many of them do so already.
I believe that that relationship reflects the most appropriate manner to resource this important function. The new authorities will be confident that the constituent county councils, with their more substantial resources, will be standing behind them when unforeseen circumstances arise which require the rapid injection of large sums of money. For example, this may be because a bridge needs urgent repair to make it safe, or that a large section of footpath needs urgent treatment to prevent it falling into a river. Such expenditure, arising at short notice and requiring urgent action, could well be large in terms of the national park authorities' own budgets but small in terms of the resources which are available to the highway authorities. Thus the highway authorities will be better placed to absorb any such expenditure.
In addition, our proposed arrangements will enable the national park authorities and the highway authorities to come to sensible agreements on dealing with those rights of way which would under the statutory scheme in the amendments fall to the national park authorities but where, on practical grounds, there is general agreement that they should remain with the highway authority. I have in mind tarmacadamed or surfaced footpaths in small towns in the parks for which it is sensible that responsibility should rest with the highway authorities rather than with the national park authorities, even under agency agreements.
Some national parks have significant urban areas, and it makes little sense for the national park authorities to be statutorily responsible for the maintenance of connecting and linking footpaths in towns. Nor does it
Also, we do not consider it appropriate to amend the provisions regarding the preparation of definitive maps on a piecemeal basis. This is a specialised area of work in which the highway authorities already have considerable expertise. I believe that there would be significant diseconomies of scale if each national park authority has to take this role on in its own area.
We have, therefore, no plans for the time being to redistribute statutory responsibilities for the rights of way network to national park authorities, nor do we have any plans to give them the same powers as a traffic authority. With that comprehensive explanation, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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