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More Defra funding chaos

[Tuesday 19 September 2006]

THE chaotic financial affairs of the rural affairs ministry Defra take another turn for the worse today as it is revealed that local authorities in Yorkshire are to receive just over a tenth of the money they requested to implement the controversial "Right to Roam" programme.

Right to Roam chaos?

To get local councillors behind the plan - which allowed public access to millions of acres of previously private land - Defra promised it would meet the costs of footpath maintenance like repairs to stiles. Yet is was revealed yesterday that of the £550,000 requested for such work in just three areas of Yorkshire, only £60,000 has been granted.

This has infuriated farmers and landowners whose land has been opened up - often against bitter opposition - as they begin to recover from the scandal of delays in the payment of subsidies by the Rural Payments Agency of almost two years.

"Countryside access is the latest area to suffer under draconian cuts in Defra's budgets as a result of their overspend on other tasks", says Country Land and Business Association (CLA) Regional Director, Dorothy Fairburn. "Yorkshire has suffered particularly badly."

When the Government forced through the "Right to Roam" legislation - against the advice of all those actively involved in managing access on "mountain, moor, heath and down" - they undertook to fund the infrastructure work required - new stiles, gates, sign posts, information boards etc - through Defra's new Access Management Grant Scheme.

This is a classic case of this Government introducing new policies and opportunities - with lots of noise and spin - and then completely failing to fund them adequately

Dorothy Fairburn - CLA

The CLA has just received figures showing that only 3 out of the eleven access authorities in Yorkshire who put in bids for work under the Access Management Grant Scheme have been successful. These are Barnsley, Doncaster and North Yorkshire. They have been offered a total of £60,000 against the total Yorkshire "bid" of £551,000. This represents 11% of the funding required for infrastructure work necessary for the successful implementation of the new access provisions. Nationally the figure is 18%, so Yorkshire is further disadvantaged.

"This is a classic case of this Government introducing new policies and opportunities - with lots of noise and spin - and then completely failing to fund them adequately. Under-resourced rights of way departments in local authorities will do their best, but farmers and landowners will be the ones who suffer," added Miss Fairburn. "Why should they bear the brunt of Defra's inefficiencies and overspends in other areas? Walkers who might have been encouraged to use the open access will also miss out."

"It is extremely worrying that Defra are proposing opening up even more access in coastal areas when they can not fund the existing provision properly", she concluded.

It was revealed last week that Defra is so strapped for cash because of budget cuts imposed by Chancellor Gordon Brown - thanks to his massive overspend on so-called NHS and school reform - that it is allowing hundreds of miles of coast to be swept away because there is no money for sea defences.

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