HL Deb 22 January 2002 vol 630 cc1384-5

2.52 p.m.

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in response to the Rights of Way Condition Survey 2000 published by the Countryside Agency on 11th December 2001.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Government will continue, by means of regulations, to implement a range of measures provided for in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The measures are designed to improve the administration and management of rights of way. Moreover, the Government are providing substantial additional funding to local authorities to accompany the new measures, which will assist highway authorities in bringing the rights of way network up to the standard that we expect.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but the Question is about the existing network and the existing system. The survey refers to the network's "existing inadequate condition".

Apart from the provision of signposts where footpaths intersect with metalled roads, the ease of using the paths has been unchanged since 1994. Eleven per cent of the footpaths and bridleways are reported to be "not usable". Walkers meet "serious problems" approximately every two kilometres on the existing footpath network, and horse riders meet serious problems on bridleways approximately every 2.4 kilometres. In those circumstances, is not the Minister being rather complacent? Will he talk to the Countryside Agency about what can be done now to make sure that, by the time of the next survey, matters are improved?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that is one way of putting it. The other way is to say that 89 per cent of ramblers find the footpaths satisfactory. Local authorities and others have made some efforts to ensure that the footpaths are open. The moneys and powers available under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 do not relate simply to new measures under that Act; they relate to the improvement plans that local authorities are required to produce under that Act to improve existing rights of way.

The noble Lord is wrong to say that the measures and moneys to which I referred in my Answer do not deal with the problem: they do. Much of the activity will have to be carried out through the local authorities, but the Countryside Agency still stands there to help in that task.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, what consideration have the Government given to the levels of investment recommended by the Rights of Way Condition Survey 2000—£69 million to improve the condition of the United Kingdom's paths network to the standards envisaged by the national target?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, in line with what we said during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Government have allocated between £12 million and £19 million a year to allow local authorities to build up to that standard. Some of the money in that aggregate figure is to deal with other measures outside that, but there is a substantial long-term improvement programme.

Lord Clark of Windermere

My Lords, in view of the good news announced today that the Government intend to allocate an extra 13 per cent on average to the national parks in England and in view of the fact that so many people enjoy walking, will the Minister discuss with the chairman of the English National Parks and Broads Authority ways of ensuring that some of the increased moneys can be used to keep footpaths open?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that is one of the functions of the English National Parks and Broads Authority. My colleague, Alun Michael, is in constant discussion with the chairs of the national parks to ensure that that responsibility is fulfilled.