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Earl Peel: I support my noble friend's amendment based entirely as it is on practical common sense. Many of the arguments which my noble friend advanced go back to those which we used when discussing Amendment No. 314 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.
The truth of the matter is, as my noble friend said, that this amendment would seek to legitimise what is a current practice. And it is a current practice brought about by a very real need; that is, to stop vehicles from using bridleways. It is happening consistently and it is a problem with which land managers are faced on a regular basis.
The results are obvious: the track becomes disrupted and falls into a state of disrepair; it is costly to maintain; and it is inconvenient for all those people who use those rights of way. As my noble friend quite rightly said, it is a perfect opportunity for people to use those paths for carrying out criminal activities. He mentioned fly-tipping, which is a very real issue now. I can think of many instances where bridleways have been used illegally for fly-tipping by people in vehicles. As my noble friend said, the amendment provides a power to the local authority to permit. That is an important point. It would not provide a widespread power to owners and managers to act in an indiscriminate fashion.
I can think of a number of examples where well-designed barriers on open moorland have been constructed in such a way as to prevent vehicles passing through them illegally. They would not prevent cross-country bikes passing through, but would prevent vehicles, which is of major importance. At the same time, such barriers do not impede access to walkers, cyclists or riders. The Minister earlier referred to riders.
Where such barriers are deemed necessary, they help to deter people from the temptation of using such roads. Seeing a barrier across the road would remove the thought, "I might have a go and see if I can get up
Later on in the Bill we shall come to extinguishment of rights of way for reasons of crime. Crime is a serious issue. I understand that there are two reasons behind the amendment: prevention of crime and specifically preventing driving on rights of way. Our attitude to crime prevention falls into a similar category to our attitude to night access. An issue of crime needs to be addressed as such and dealt with in the same way as when people use unclassified roads. Just because they happen to be on a bridleway or footpath does not alter the fact that they have committed a crime and need to be apprehended. However, we do not suggest that because of the large amount of worrying rural crime, we should gate all unclassified roads.
I am intrigued by the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, about other designs of barriers to prevent driving illegally for fun on rights of way. We heard earlier the reasons for discouraging that. If it was possible to design a barrier which would cause trouble to a vehicle trying to negotiate it, but which could be negotiated by walkers of all abilities, including the less able, and by horse riders, that would be a different matter.
I have another difficulty with the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran referred to barriers. Horse riders, in particular, experience problems with gates. When the gates are first erected, there are good intentions and the gates start out as open gates. However, after a short time they become chained and locked and are another obstruction.
Baroness Mallalieu: Perhaps I may ask the Minister to consider carefully this amendment. In the area in which I live there has been a problem on a number of major bridleways with trespass by travellers. There are not adequate provisions for lawful sites. Steps have been taken to provide the sort of barrier to which the noble Baroness referred. They have offset rails, and are at a height which makes it perfectly possible for people to ride in a figure of eight in order to pass through. Walkers are not impeded in any way, but caravans and cars are.
Strictly speaking, that form of trespass may not be a crime. However, it can lead to the closure of those paths for all other users because car breaking may take place, broken glass and metal may be left and there may be difficulty in passing. This is a real problem in some areas. It can be dealt with in a way that does not prevent legitimate use of the path. The very limited provisions which allow for such barriers to be erected only by permission of the authorities seem to me to be necessary.
Baroness O'Cathain: I, too, support the amendment, and can see the reason for it, particularly in view of crime, to which we shall come later in the Bill, but also because of fly-tipping. Since the introduction of the landfill tax, there has been a huge increase in fly-tipping. That militates against the enjoyment of walkers. I am told that this is partly the reason for the Bill. Walkers will feel much more confident if they know they will not be mown down by 4 x 4s on the bridleway. From the point of view of walkers and riders, the amendment is a good idea.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to the sudden chaining of gates. If the authorities are given the power to erect such barriers, it would be in their remit to ensure that that does not occur. Such a situation could be reported and the problem obviated.
Lord Kimball: I, too, add my support to the amendment. Nowadays, there are a large number of "hippy" people. Once on one's land, it is almost impossible to remove them and it costs a great deal of money to do so. It is important to agree with the local authority that a substantial barrier is put in place. The police come round and warn landowners when such people are on the move, so that in the first instance, one can block the road with every conceivable form of farm machinery. However, after that, a substantial barrier has to be erected. I hope that the Minister will realise what a major problem that is in the countryside.
The Earl of Selborne: I apologise for delaying the Committee, but I should like briefly to add my support. It has been a feature in my part of Hampshire that travellers have moved on to land and caused great damage. Three or four weeks ago, devastating damage was done to the working men's club in Whitehill off public access. It is perfectly possible to design a barrier which in no way impedes foot users and riders. This is a happy amendment which achieves the objective of furthering the interests of genuine bridleway and footpath users. At the same time it achieves much for the peace of mind of others involved with the land.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Perhaps the Committee will forgive me if I do not trespass on the wider issues of vehicular access to restricted byways and bridleways. Such issues have been debated and will be again when we come to Schedule 7. I do not want to debate that now; nor do I think that it is entirely relevant to discuss the issue of travellers. I certainly do not want to do that in case I find that the noble
I have listened carefully to what has been said by all those who have taken part. We cannot accept the amendment, but I have some comments on alternatives. We believe that Section 147 of the Highways Act has stood the test of time. The general public accept that gates and fences are required to prevent livestock wandering where they should not. Indeed, in some parts of the country stone stiles are effective, attractive and traditional.
However, the amendment would have the potential for significantly increasing the number of gates and barriers on rights of way. I know that in the end this would be up to the local authority. However, I do not believe that local authorities are given power to do things unless it is thought that such power would be used. I assume that those who have taken part in the debate believe that that power would be used. It would allow the occupier of any land to ask the local highways authority, or other competent authority, to grant permission to erect a gate or other barrier on a footpath or bridleway to facilitate the efficient use of that land for any purpose. That in itself is very wide. It could cover virtually any operation whether it be agriculture, forestry or any other use. That could include developed land--that is, land in urban areas--crossed by footpaths and bridleways.
It goes further, in that it would allow barriers to be created to prevent unlawful use of a right of way. It would also extend to restricted byways, and I argued that in relation to Amendments Nos. 336 and 337. With regard to the other points, we are not convinced that the case for extending Section 147 in the way in which the amendment proposes is sufficiently great to override the public interest in having footpaths and bridleways which are reasonably clear of barriers for them to surmount.
I understand the arguments about criminal use of footpaths and bridleways. But Section 147 is not the way to tackle it. For example, it is difficult to see how a gate could keep out a motorist unless it were locked, and, if it were locked, walkers and riders could not get through. It could also make life difficult for disabled people.
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