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Open Spaces Society: proposals for support for public access as part of post-Brexit agricultural funding

1. The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU provides an opportunity to model funding schemes for agriculture to ensure that public money achieves maximum public benefit and promotes public wellbeing.
2. Public benefit should include public access, whether by paths or open access to land (freedom to roam), because such assets support local economies, and improve people’s health, wellbeing and safety. Public access also helps to connect those who use paths for whatever reason (non-motorised transport, for health reasons and for recreation) and those who own and manage the land. Naturally we advocate the public exercise its rights and freedoms responsibly and with respect for landowners, land managers and other users.

Proposal 1. Funding for public access within any scheme
3. Any new scheme should include financial support for landowners who provide additional access or improvements to existing access.

Proposal 2. Additional access
4. Payments should be available for the provision of new access, either along defined paths or as freedom to roam, or both. It should be well publicised. It should be targeted and selective, with bids from farmers and land managers assessed against criteria, such as public demand, achievement of the objectives of the local rights of way improvement plan, linking up existing routes, or improvement of safety (for example, enabling walkers, riders and cyclists to avoid using roads, especially those which are busy, used at speed, or have limited visibility).
5. Encouragement should be given for creating bridleways or restricted byways so that maximum public benefit is provided. The provision of circular off-road routes is of particular benefit for equestrians as they limit the amount of riding on roads. The difference in payments for creating bridleways or restricted byways compared to footpaths should be substantial to encourage upgrades where it is appropriate for all users.
6. In the case of access land, there could be an increased number of access points, or additional access points provided across boundaries within the access area, and the provision of higher rights access on access land.
7. It should be possible to upgrade existing footpaths or bridleways to create bridleways or restricted byways.
8. Ideally the new access will be permanent, consisting of definitive rights of way, or land dedicated for access under section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 or as a village green under section 15(8) of the Commons Act 2006. Additional spreading room adjacent to the coastal path in England could be rewarded. However, long-term permissive access is often better than no access at all.

Proposal 3. Enhancing existing access
9. There should be rewards for enhancing existing access along existing rights of way. For example, this could include:
• improvement in path widths,
• leaving a path across arable fields undisturbed and uncultivated, and regularly mowing and preventing encroachment by vegetation,
• regularly mowing a headland path and preventing encroachment by vegetation,
• mowing and marking a path across grass leys,
• mowing, regrading and rolling green lanes,
• improving the accessibility of gates and stiles,
• additional or improved waymarking and signposting,
10. Enhancements of existing access would be optional extras which farmers and land managers could elect to adopt. They would be applied only to existing public rights of way and access land, and the farmer would receive standard annual payments per length of path adopted, depending on the commitments entered into. Because the enhancements would be applied to existing public rights of way and access land, farmers could opt into the scheme without prior negotiation, and the scheme would have low administration costs.

Proposal 4. Cross compliance
11. It is important that those who receive grants and have existing rights of way on their land should ensure that all legislation is complied with, keeping paths clear of obstruction, reinstating them after ploughing etc.
12. It will be necessary to work out a cross-compliance regime that is fair to both land managers and the public, once the future is clearer.