When ever a Conservative Government starts to lose party membership support it invariably dreams up appeasing legislation designed to appeal to its wealthy land-owning old guard.
On this occasion it has announced new legislation which will give landowners the right to have public rights of way diverted, claiming that it would be in the interest of both landowners and ramblers.
It could be said that such claims are partially correct, but the whole object of placing public right of way under the protection of the Crown following the barely legitimate enclosure awards was to ensure that people could get to their places of work and generally go about their business.
Up to the 1980s it was not at all easy for landowners to obtain right of way diversions but in the early 1980s a Conservative Government that was also fast losing popularity brought in legislation that made it much easier for landowners to secure diversion orders at the expense and inconvenience of users.
There was opposition from right of way user organisations but the government assured them that their right to oppose any or all applications for diversions would be respected and given every official consideration.
This was of course a hollow promise as the final outcome of all objections would be decided by a government appointed inspectorate and as is widely known, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Also, it was stated that local authorities would be obliged to consult the Ramblers Association on all applications. Another meaningless assurance as not only does the Ramblers Association only represent its members which amount to less than ten per cent of the people who go rambling and leisure walking it has no connection with the people who use public rights of way for the purpose for which they were officially protected.
Even under the existing legislation public rights of way are only officially recognised as leisure and recreational facilities.
Central and local government prefers to have no understanding or caring for the needs of the increasing numbers of poor people living outside the towns, all too often where there is no longer affordable public transport or indeed any public transport at all.
When public rights of way are diverted inevitably the distance to walk is increased and the new path made onto rough and untrodden ground that was not previously used as a path due to its unsuitability.
There are countless examples of public rights of way that have been diverted off ancient roads now claimed to be private and rerouted onto rough ground, which might be fine for fit young leisure walkers but what of elderly people needing to get to a shop or a young mother taking her children to school?
As we enter a new era of ‘haves’ and ‘have not’ societies, the rising price of running a car will make public rights of way ever more needed by the ‘have nots’ and the increasing numbers of ‘haves’ on the roads in fast cars will ensure that cycling will become ever more dangerous, indeed, the evidence of this is already manifest.
One thing that this issue makes very clear is the Conservatives’ callous contempt of and disregard for the countryside and its people, apart from the basically absent second home owners who are the most likely to seek public right of way diversions in order to enhance the value of their investment.
Cowfold Road, Dragons Green,