Sir George backs proposals to keep 4 wheelers off country paths and bridle ways
11 Oct 2005
Speaking in the House of Commons, Sir George added his weight to an All-Party amendment that would prevent a loophole in the law being exploited to allow more 4x4s to drive across routes known as BOATS - byways open to all traffic.

"There is a real problem in Hampshire, where some paths used by ramblers, cyclists and horse riders might be opened up to use by 4x4s and other vehicles. I am glad the Government is reviewing its plans, which would have caused real problems in Hampshire where applications have been flooding in to use these scenic paths for motor use."

This is the text of Sir George's speech:

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley)—I expect that we will meet later by the Members' cycle rack before we pedal home. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) delivered a knowledgeable speech, as is his wont, in a softly spoken manner, but I am sure that the Minister detected a hint of menace towards the end of his remarks.

I would like to speak briefly to new clause 21. It is a pleasure to follow in the slipstream of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, of which I am patron. I also speak as the honorary vice-president of the Cyclists Touring Club. As she and my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said, there is an element of uncertainty about the rights of cyclists, and it is not clear whether they have a right of way. It has always been assumed that evidence of cycle use was sufficient to claim either a carriageway or a bridleway, but in two recent public inquiries to which my hon. Friend referred, the same inspector has ruled against attempts to claim either way on the grounds that there was no statutory or common law authority to do so. As the Bill is going through the House, it is appropriate to clarify the question, and I am sure that there will not be a great falling out over the issue.

Turning briefly to new clause 4, my hon. Friend mentioned the serious situation in Hampshire. Between January and May this year, 74 byway claims were received. I contacted the county council this morning to find out the position, and it said that it had

"not, in fact, received any byway claims since 17 May. This appears to be as a result of the moratorium subsequently placed on the making of such applications by the"

Trail Riders Fellowship and the Land Access and Recreation Association. It continues:

"We have no doubt that more claims are in the pipeline and ready to be submitted once the current embargo ends."

Like other hon. Members, I received a piece of propaganda from the Green Lane Association on behalf of people who want to extend rights of way. At the beginning, it says:

"We . . . do not risk damage to either our vehicles or to the countryside."

I am sure that its members do not risk damage to their vehicles, but it is simply not the case that they do not risk damage to the countryside. The document makes one interesting argument, about the position of disabled people, that needs to be addressed before it is dismissed. Towards the end, it says that, in the interests of access to the countryside, people who are less mobile should be allowed more rights of way. I tried that argument out yesterday on a constituent in a wheelchair who was visiting the Houses of Parliament. She was emphatic: she minded about the countryside and did not want roads to be churned up by four-wheeled vehicles or motorbikes. She would be deeply resentful if disabled people were used as an argument in favour of such action. Having raised that argument, I hope that too much account will not be made of it. I notice that it has not been made by groups representing disabled people, but only by the Green Lane Association, which has a small but vociferous membership. As we have heard throughout this debate, it is stacking up claims to create byways in the hope that they will be heard under the old rules. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said that Wiltshire county council estimates that it has over 30 years' work to process the claims that it has received so far. While it does so, the damage to the routes in question will continue. I understand why notice was given for a period of exemption, but the evidence that we have heard in our debate suggests that that is not the best way to proceed.

To conclude with the position in Hampshire, the Minister generously held a meeting on 22 September with the CTC. Some photographs were left with him showing parts of tracks that were badly damaged, even though other parts of the route had been repaired. The cost of repairs this year has been estimated to be £10,000, including officer time. Further works have yet to be done, and complaints are being made to Hampshire county council about the fact that it has to spend ratepayers' money on repairs made necessary by a tiny minority of users, particularly motorbikes. When the council was asked to extend the traffic regulation order, the assistant head of the countryside service said:

"the legislation does not allow the highway authority to use or extend the scope of a Traffic Regulation Order as an alternative to undertaking repair works."

That raises important questions about how we stop the damage.

I hope that the Minister will deal with the Bassetlaw question. The relevant provision is prospective and applies only to new rights of way. We need to address the important issue of all the rights of way that have been established, even though activity may not be appropriate.

The Minister is a sensitive soul and he will have detected the mood of the House throughout the debate. I do not know what his officials have drafted for his winding-up speech, but he might be well advised to ad lib and go off track for a short time. If he wants to capture the mood of the House and build on the consensus that has featured in the debate so far, he should opt for the earliest possible date.

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