HC Deb 07 March 1966 vol 725 cc1694-6
15. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources what further steps he will take to provide better access to open country for walkers and holiday-makers.

Mr. Skeffington

I would refer my hon. Friend to the recent White Paper on Leisure in the Countryside, which announced the Government's intention to ask all local planning authorities to submit revised plans, based on the vigorous use of their powers, for securing public access to open country. The White Paper also announces the decision to pay Exchequer grant at the rate of 75 per cent. throughout the countryside towards expenditure on the purchase of land for access, on compensation and on a warden service.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my hon. Friend aware that those proposals are extremely welcome? Will he indicate whether steps are being taken to give special attention to the surrounding areas of the big industrial towns and cities, because there the need is greater than anywhere else?

Mr. Skeffington

One important aspect of the policy announced in the White Paper is the provision of country parks fairly near to the great urban centres in order that these facilities shall be available without long and tiring journeys by car or in any other way.

19. Mr. Carol Johnson

asked the Minister of Land and Natural Resources whether he is satisfied that the proposals contained in Leisure in the Countryside will lead to a speedy increase in the number of access agreements, and the enlargement and strengthening of public rights in regard to footpaths and bridleways; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Skeffington

I am confident that the local authorities will make energetic use of their powers to secure access to open country, especially with the help of the 75 per cent. grants which we propose to make payable throughout the countryside.

My hon. Friend will know that we propose some simplification of procedure in respect of footpaths, and this alone should make for more rapid progress in ensuring that footpaths and bridleways continue to be available to all who want to use them.

Mr. Johnson

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that there are large areas of open country, including areas of outstanding natural beauty like Abbeystead Moors and the Forest of Bowland, where public access is still strictly prohibited? Will he give an assurance that no large-scale attempt will be made to close footpaths, on the ground that they are falling into disuse, without consultation with people who use them?

Mr. Skeffington

My hon. Friend will know, because he himself has been closely concerned in this, that there has been a long struggle to get access to areas even when they have been preserved from the wrong kinds of development. This is what we have very much in mind in the countryside proposals in the White Paper. With regard to the closure of footpaths, we thought it wise to make provision for the abolition of footpaths which are not necessary; but our own view is that increasingly nearly all footpaths will become necessary with the growth of motor traffic.

Mr. Lipton

On the question of access, will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that authorities concerned do not sell to private interests disused railway railway track which could be made use of in this connection?

Mr. Skeffington

My hon. Friend may have noticed that in my Answer to an earlier Question I pointed out that these tracks would often be very suitable, either for access or for other purposes, and that powers under three Statutes are available for this purpose.