Nick Herbert calls for green lane protection

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for the speedier protection of green lanes from use by 4x4 vehicles and motorbikes.

Speaking in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill Standing Committee on Thursday (30 June), Mr Herbert voiced support for the Government's proposals to protect green lanes but wanted to see quicker action.

Mr Herbert said: "I share the concern about how we balance recreational use of the countryside against the needs of the environment and the need to preserve quiet enjoyment of the countryside. But in this case I agree that protecting the countryside should come first."

Mr Herbert raised the issue of the Stane Street Roman road, which runs through Slindon and Bignor, to highlight the many applications that are now being made to upgrade existing bridleways into byways open to all traffic (BOATs) before the legislation comes into effect.

"We are not proposing to take away a pre-existing right or current enjoyment.  This use of a procedure to try to change bridleways into BOATs seems to be almost a lacuna in the existing law.  It is not common sense that simply, because two millennia ago Roman centurions were trundling chariots up and down what was then a made up road, a present footpath in an area of outstanding natural beauty and a scheduled ancient monument should be used for motorised vehicles.  Any reasonable person who was asked whether it was acceptable to apply for a change of use under such an historic provision would laugh and say that it was plainly absurd."

Whilst Mr Herbert and other MPs on the Committee tried to amend the Bill so that these measures would come into force as soon as possible, thereby limiting the number of applications and the possible damage that could be done to the countryside, the Government, for various technical reasons, didn't accept the amendments.

Earlier on in the week, Mr Herbert had pressed the Minister on the issue of democratic representation in the proposed South Downs National Park:

"What is proposed for the South Downs is a big transfer of power to a body that is in part unelected to deal with things such as the large number of planning applications.  Under the proposed composition of the national park authorities as set out in the Bill, two fifths of the appointees to the national park will be national appointees.  That gives rise to two issues: first the extent to which the national park authority will have democratic legitimacy in the eyes of local people, particularly when it takes decisions on planning matters; and, secondly, whether the proposed size of the national park authority is adequate to carry out all the functions."

With the membership of one of the country's largest national park's authority (the Peak District) having recently been capped by the Government at 30, this is a cause of great concern.  A similar level of representation applied to the South Downs would lead to a huge democratic deficit.  A park authority of insufficient size would see decision-making powers being taken away from local people and a loss of accountability.  This concern is shared by West Sussex County Council.

The Minister was unable to give a full answer to Mr Herbert's question regarding accountability and representation in any proposed National Park, due to his quasi-judicial position at DEFRA, but Mr Herbert said afterwards, "I will continue to monitor the situation and to do what I can to defend the beauty and tranquillity of the South Downs and the democratic representation of local people in West Sussex."


Christopher N Howarth