HL Deb 19 October 1981 vol 424 cc627-9

126 After Clause 57, insert the following new clause:

"Publication of dedication of footpaths and bridleways.

At the end of section 25 of the Highways Act 1980 (creation of footpath or bridleway by agreement) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (6) As soon as may be after the dedication of a footpath or bridleway in accordance with a public path creation agreement, the local authority who are party to the agreement shall give notice of the dedication by publication in at least one local newspaper circulating in the area in which the land to which the agreement relates is situated.".".

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their amendment No. 126. This new clause amends the provisions of Section 25 of the Highways Act 1980, which enables local authorities to enter into agreements with landowners for the dedication of footpaths or bridleways. It does so by requiring the authority to publicise in the local press that a footpath or bridleway has been dedicated for public use in consequence of such an agreement. In the Government's view, it represents a welcome improvement in the law in this area since at present the public have no way of knowing that a footpath or bridleway has been so dedicated and is available for use. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(The Earl of Avon.)

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 126A as an amendment to Amendment No. 126:

126A Line 7, after second ("dedication") insert (" to such bodies as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State or as the authority may consider appropriate and ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords I beg to move Amendment No. 126A as an amendment to Amendment No. 126. As the noble Earl said, Amendment No. 126 is a very welcome change to the Bill and, in so far as it goes, I think will he of considerable interest to those interested in using the rights of way. My amendment would simply take this process a little further by requiring notice also to be given to such bodies as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State in regulations or as the authority may consider appropriate.

This is really an attempt to tidy up the Bill for the Government, which I am sure the noble Earl will be able to welcome, because this change would bring the new clause introduced by Amendment No. 126 into line with the procedures for informing interested parties which the Government have now adopted throughout Schedules 14 and 15. I think it is also reasonable and logical that those bodies representing likely users of a new path should be informed of its creation in the same way as the users will be by a notice in the local paper—because after all most walkers get their information about new and existing rights of way from organisations representing them rather than poring through official notices or looking at page 57 of the local paper. I hope that explanation will commend the amendment to the Government and to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the amendment to the amendment.—(Lord Melchett.)

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the principles ralsed by this amendment apply equally to two later amendments which have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in so far as all three are about the degree of publicity that newly-created footpaths and bridleways should receive. This first one concerns the dedication of footpaths and bridleways as a result of agreements under Section 25 of the Highways Act 1980. It is intended to serve the needs of the local community and I am satisfied that a notice in the local press, in accordance with the requirement of Amendment 126, is an adequate way of ensuring that people living in the locality, who after all are the ones who really matter, are informed of a new footpath or bridleway which has been made available for their use. Unlike public path orders, there is no right of objection to a creation agreement and so there is no need on that score for wider publicity than a notice in the local press. In addition to persons visiting the area from outside, the path will, under the new system, appear on the definitive map within a relatively short period of time.

In all these three amendments the noble Lord is suggesting that in addition to a notice in the local press, as envisaged by the Commons amendment, the availability of these footpaths or bridleways should be given wider publicity. The Government do not accept that this is essential. In general, footpaths and bridle-ways are derived from dedication agreements and public path orders and do only serve the local community. The case for such widespread publicity would be stronger if it were thought necessary to cater for a right of objections; but in these cases there is none. Landowners in any event will be aware of what is happening and other local authorities, because of their statutory responsibilities, should similarly be in touch with developments. In addition, as I have mentioned already, to persons visiting the locality from outside the path will appear much more quickly.

Having said that, the Government are prepared to go some way to meet the noble Lord by recommending to local authorities in the guidance that will follow the enactment of the Bill that they consider informing local user organisations of the availability of these footpaths and bridleways. I hope, with that undertaking, that the noble Lord will see fit not to press his amendment.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, that is very helpful. I do think there is a basic misconception which the Government may have picked up from frequent contact with other interests, and that is that the footpaths are still only used by local people. The whole argument in favour of retaining a network of public footpaths is that while it is accepted they are no longer used for people living in a village to get to church or to a neighbouring village, the argument the footpath users would advance is that they now form a major part of the recreational assets of this country as a whole; and a lot of our debates earlier in the Bill were concerned with people visiting areas where they do not live or walking along long-distance footpaths, walking in areas they have not been to before, and so on, and the problems and difficulties and rights that apply to them.

I am afraid that this argument that footpaths are no longer of any importance, except where they are used by local people is one used very occasionally—and I am sure never by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley—by some farmers. I am sure it is the wrong one and it is a shame that the Government have picked it up, even if only to use it in arguing against one of my excellent amendments.

The noble Earl also said that these paths would appear on the definitive maps much more quickly than in the past. I hope that is something that everyone will be able to hold the Government to and that the Government will be able to deliver on. It is certainly something that path-user organisations will be watching very closely. As I say, the noble Earl's assurance was a helpful one and I am grateful for it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.