HC Deb 05 February 2004 vol 417 cc893-4
9. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD)

If she will make a statement on protection of the Ridgeway. [152872]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael):

Over the past year, I have held several meetings—most recently on 28 January—with local MPs, including the hon. Gentleman, Members of the House of Lords and the local highway authorities to address the problems of damage to the surface of the trail by vehicular traffic. The Ridgeway management group, which consists of the Countryside Agency and local highway authorities, has produced an action plan that includes measures to repair and protect the surface of the trail, such as the use of traffic regulation orders by local highway authorities. For example, Wiltshire county council is introducing such an order for Smeathe's ridge.

Mr. Rendel

I thank the Minister very much for the sterling work that he is doing to try to protect the Ridgeway—I think that all the MPs concerned would agree with that—but may I ask him what is the comparative cost of introducing one TRO for the entire Ridgeway compared with each local authority having to introduce its own TRO?

Alun Michael

That issue was raised at the meeting last week, and I have asked officials to look at it, but one of the problems is that the controls of activities can succeed only if they are appropriate to the different paths and conditions at various points along the Ridgeway. In some places, the existence of mechanised vehicles on the Ridgeway causes immense problems; in others, it does not. Local support, as well as the support of all the local authorities, is required if any arrangement is to work. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would encourage them, as I have done, to work together locally.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

The Minister knows that Wiltshire county council has spent a great deal of time and money on the Ridgeway on behalf of our communities, but that the Ridgeway is only one example among many thousands of the extremely delicate heritage routes across our country. Does he agree that we must grasp the problem in a far more determined manner? It is not just about repairing damaged tracks and so on; it is about telling the people who use those tracks that they are as much a part of our heritage as a great building and that it is not appropriate to plough them up with motor vehicles, when we should be looking after them as though they were indeed national monuments.

Alun Michael

I warmly welcome what the hon. Gentleman says and encourage him and any of his constituents who care about the issues as he does to make their views known in response to the consultation that I recently launched on the use of motorised vehicles. I am receiving a lot of correspondence from Members of the House, but some correspondents suggest that there is no need to tackle the issue. The hon. Gentleman has illustrated why the consultation was necessary. Of course we need to examine carefully every opinion and piece of evidence that comes in, and I strongly encourage people to respond because I agree with him about the importance of the matter.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the consultation period has already closed, so it might be too late for people to respond. None the less, does he agree that under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, there is a real risk that thousands of miles of RUPPS—roads used as public paths—are being reclassified as byways open to all traffic, which means that they will become permanently available for those scourges of the quiet enjoyment of the countryside: four-wheel-drive vehicles and motor cycles? Will he take steps to reclassify all byways open to all traffic as restricted byways throughout England, thereby preserving the peace and quiet of our rural lanes for all time?

Alun Michael

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the issue, and I hope that we will have his assistance and that of Opposition Members when we take forward the outcome of the consultation. Representations are still coming in and will be considered within the consultation—it is important that everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Given that there is something like a month to go on the consultation, I am pleased that the matter has been highlighted in the House today so that everyone, whatever their interest, will know about the consultation and contribute to it.

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