New Clause 11 — Traffic Regulation on Byways Etc. in National Parks in England and Wales

Orders of the Day — Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:17 pm on 11th October 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

'After section 22B of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 insert—

"22BB Traffic regulation on byways etc. in National Parks in England and Wales

(1) This section applies to a road—

(a) which is in a National Park in England or Wales,

(b) which is—

(i) shown in a definitive map and statement as a byway open to all traffic, a restricted byway, a bridleway or a footpath, or

(ii) a carriageway whose surface, or most of whose surface, does not consist of concrete, tarmacadam, coated roadstone or other prescribed material, and

(c) in respect of which no relevant order is in force.

(2) The National Park authority may—

(a) for a purpose mentioned in section 1(1)(a) to (g) or 22(2), by order make in respect of the road any such provision as is mentioned in section 2(1), (2) or (3) or 4(1);

(b) for the purpose of carrying out an experimental scheme of traffic control, by order make in respect of the road any such provision as is mentioned in section 2(1), (2) or (3) or 4(1);

(c) for a reason given in section 14(1)(a) or (b) or for a purpose mentioned in section 14(1)(c) or 22(2), by order make in respect of the road—

(i) any such provision as is mentioned in section 2(1), (2) or (3) or 4(1), or

(ii) any provision restricting the speed of vehicles.

(3) This Act has effect, subject to subsection (4) and any prescribed modifications, in relation to an order by a National Park authority under subsection (2)(a), (b) or (c) as it has effect in relation to an order by a local traffic authority under section 1, 9 or 14(1).

(4) Before making any order under subsection (2), the National Park authority must consult any authority which is a highway authority for the road.

22BC Section 22BB: supplementary

(1) Expressions used in section 22BB(1)(b) that are defined for the purposes of Part 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by section 66(1) of that Act have the same meaning as in that Part.

(2) In section 22BB(1)(c) "relevant order" means—

(a) a traffic regulation order,

(b) an experimental traffic order,

(c) an order under section 14(1),

(d) an order under section 22(4), or

(e) an order under section 22B,

but does not include an order made under section 22BB(2).

(3) In section 22BB "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations made—

(a) in relation to England, by the Secretary of State;

(b) in relation to Wales, by the National Assembly for Wales.

(4) Any functions exercisable by the National Assembly for Wales by virtue of this section are to be treated for the purposes of section 44 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 (parliamentary procedures for subordinate legislation) as if made exercisable by the Assembly by an Order in Council under section 22 of that Act."'.—[Jim Knight.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity) 4:28 pm, 11th October 2005

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to be able to return to this Bill so soon after the summer recess. Given what Bob Spink has just said about off-road vehicles, it is especially appropriate that we should begin with this new clause, which would give the national park authorities powers to make traffic regulation orders in respect of unsealed roads. The new clause follows points made in Standing Committee by my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping and by Mr. Williams.

Some national park authorities already carry out limited highway authority functions in respect of rights of way, which are delegated to them by agreement with their local highway authority under section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972. However, it is unclear whether those agreements are able to cover the making of traffic regulation orders.

Therefore, national park authorities must rely on negotiations with the local authority when they want to impose a TRO. That process can be time consuming and resource intensive, and the outcome is often uncertain. As I said in Committee in response to the points made by the hon. Members to whom I have referred, I believe that the national park authorities should have the necessary tools to manage traffic effectively on recreational routes in the national parks.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

The Minister is absolutely right; Exmoor national park has exactly that problem. But would he differentiate between recreational users and people who have legitimate reason to have their vehicles up there? There are areas where people use their vehicles for farming and so on, and if the national park has measures that are too draconian it could be a problem. Would the Minister be able to arbitrate in a dispute between landowners?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity) 4:30 pm, 11th October 2005

I am not sure that I personally would want to arbitrate in all those matters. The expectation would be that the national park authorities would use those powers sensitively, as highways authorities currently do. We would be applying the rules that currently apply to highways authorities in respect of the powers to make TROs also to national park authorities, who would use them in the same way.

The amendment will make it easier for the park authorities to protect routes that are most vulnerable to damage of the type that we heard about from the hon. Member for Castle Point when he introduced his ten-minute Bill.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for commencing this afternoon's proceedings with what I might call a bit of a climbdown, because he will remember that he opposed the amendment when it was tabled by the Liberal Democrats in Committee. To be fair, he said, as he has just repeated, that he wanted national parks to have the tools but he was not at that stage prepared to give them the powers. Now he is doing so and he is doing that correctly.

I also want to express my gratitude to the Minister for informing those of us who were involved with the Bill, early in the recess, that this was his plan, and for making similar comments about other things. I only hope that this presages a useful next four-and-a-half hours of proceedings and that there will be other measures on which we can agree, but clearly it is sensible that national parks authorities should have the opportunity to issue traffic regulation orders. We shall return to traffic regulation orders later this evening, but the fact that the Government are seeing fit to give national parks authorities the power to issue TROs is an important step forward, not just because of national parks but also because of the principle of using TROs to deal with some of the negative effects that mechanised vehicles can have on byways that are open to all traffic. We need not repeat at this stage all the damage that can be done—members of the Committee and many other Members of the House are well aware of it—but it is very serious, and giving national parks authorities the opportunity to issue TROs takes us a long way forward. It still leaves the rest of the country and we shall return to that in a later group of amendments, but I appreciate the Minister's concession on this new clause and welcome it.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

I very much welcome the new clause. As the Minister knows, the Peak district is the most beautiful part of England and he is welcome to come and see for himself at the earliest possible time all that the area has to offer. Unfortunately, one thing that he might see on a visit is damage that has been done by 4x4s and off-road vehicles to the rights of way that we are talking about today. Many national parks have had this problem for a long time, but the issue has perhaps been growing faster in the Peak district.

I should like to raise with the Minister a number of issues on which I hope he can provide answers, but whatever he says in answer, he can be assured of my 100 per cent. support for the new clause. First, is this just about 4x4 vehicles or is it about other forms of mechanised transport as well? I am thinking of trail bikes, motor bikes and so on. Secondly, in recent months there has been a rush by various groups to try to squeeze some rights of way under the finishing rope, to get them recognised as rights of way on which they can use motorised vehicles before legislation such as this comes into effect. I should be grateful if the Minister would assure me that where there is evidence that these have been raised at a late stage to try to get them under the wire, that can be resisted. I am not really asking for retrospective powers for the national park, but I am asking for it to have powers to resist applications for rights of way status that are already in the pipeline where, for example, there is no evidence that motorised vehicles have ever regularly used those rights of way.

I am also interested to know about the use of the definitive map in these cases. Why is it that only rights of way are on the definitive map, rather than other routes that may well be established as walking routes and so on and could be abused by users of motorised recreational vehicles? Does the Minister envisage that, as a consequence of the new clause, powers will be given to national parks to repair, upgrade or make changes to rights of way or to force others to do so in order to maintain or restore their essential character?

The final point—I think that Mr. Paice hinted at it—is that if the national parks had such powers they would obviously need the resources to impose them. Can we be assured that national parks funding will take into account the need to maintain the character of rights of way?

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I welcome the wisdom of the Minister in tabling the new clause. In all respects, it replicates my intention in tabling an amendment in Committee. I have no doubt that the statutory intent is expressed in better language, and I welcome that, too. It is desperately important for national parks, which have the statutory duty to conserve the appearance of the countryside as well as to promote recreation and enjoyment of those areas, to have the power to make TROs. The national parks are best placed to strike a balance between conservation and recreation. I have no doubt that they will use the Sandford principle in coming to decisions. The Sandford principle puts the emphasis on conservation if there is ever a dispute between the two statutory duties.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger, who represents Exmoor, made a point about landowners having access over rights of way when TROs are made. I am sure that in the consultations that national parks will undertake with the local residents and the local authority such access would be protected, because it is so important to the local economy.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

One of the issues that I touched on was the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and national parks. Two national parks have MOD land on them—Dartmoor and Northumberland. I have seen little mention of that. Both bodies have statutory rights, and Crown immunity is going. I wonder whether the hon. Member has any thoughts on that.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman raises a valuable point. I am not aware of the military use of national parks where the MOD either owns part of the national park or has been given use of land. The military uses the Brecon Beacons national park on a rather more informal basis. The MOD has a very good relationship with the national park, and I am sure that the national park would see that no damage was done.

I welcome the new clause. I am sure that it will give national parks great heart that they are in a better position to look after the countryside for which they have responsibility, and to promote enjoyment and recreation.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

The hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench represents part of one of the most beautiful counties in England—Dorset. Scrambling and offroading are major problems in that region. Is he aware that the courts have recently ruled that gopeds and, presumably, mini motos are classified for legal purposes as motor vehicles? Will those new miniature motorised devices be covered by the national park TROs?

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Is my hon. Friend's Department considering issuing any guidelines to national parks and others about the use of traffic regulation orders, particularly where upgrades to BOATs—byways open to all traffic—have already made progress and where there is the possibility of countering those upgrades that may have been objected to but passed in advance of the Bill becoming a statute? If so, what is the time scale in relation to such advice?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

While I recognise the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Liddell-Grainger about farmers or gamekeepers gaining access to national parks, I realise that national parks will treat such use sympathetically. Similarly, I am critical of the use in national parks of trail bikes and other vehicles that can cause damage. However, can the Minister allay my concerns about legal motor sports in national parks that are undertaken with the landowner's permission and are sometimes a valuable source of income to the landowner? In particular, trial riding, as opposed to trail riding, is a sport enjoyed by many families and young children and a valuable part of the activity that takes place in national parks.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

A lot of points have been made in quick-fire succession, which is obviously an efficient way for us to go about our business. I am grateful to Mr. Paice for his comments, which do not require me to add anything.

My hon. Friend Tom Levitt raised some important and valid issues, some of which we will deal with much more fully when we come to the fourth group of amendments, which relate to rights of way, 4x4s, trail-bike riders and so on. Clearly, the use of traffic regulation orders by national park authorities will apply to all vehicles, depending on how those orders are framed. As I said in response to the intervention from Mr. Liddell-Grainger, we shall simply apply the powers that are currently available to highways agencies. I shall deal later with the rush to make claims if my hon. Friend will be patient with me.

The powers are not limited to rights of way on the definitive map and statement. The powers also apply to all unsurfaced routes within the national park boundary—in other words, to all routes that are likely to be vulnerable to damage by mechanically propelled vehicles. My hon. Friend's next question related to the associated works that might need to be carried out in support of that. We are confident that the powers that the proposals confer will be implicitly granted to national park authorities under the new clause.

Finally, my hon. Friend asked the inevitable question about resources. We have consulted the national park authorities about the funding implications of the new powers. I visited several of them over the summer, and they are all very enthusiastic about them. Indeed, I spoke to the annual general meeting of the Association of National Park Authorities, and I got the closest thing to a cheer during my whole speech when I said that I was actively considering introducing such a proposal. The national park authorities have said that they are happy to take the new powers without additional funding. They believe that determining the priority of such things within the funds available to them and how best to use their resources to protect the landscapes that they are responsible for protecting are matters for them.

I am also grateful to Mr. Williams for his comments. In respect of the intervention made by the hon. Member for Bridgwater, I am happy to write to him about the issues that he raised about the Ministry of Defence, if that is helpful to him.

Bob Spink will be pleased to know that, yes, despite being new devices, gopeds—I share some of his mystery about what they are specifically—and certainly mini mopeds, which I do know about, will be regarded as mechanically propelled. In any case, traffic regulation orders will apply to all vehicles.

My hon. Friend John Mann asked about guidelines on using the new powers. Those will be published shortly and I shall be able to talk a little more about that later.

Mr. Goodwill raised an important point, which I did not have time to write down, so it has subsequently escaped me, but if he wants to make a rapid intervention it may be possible for me to remember.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 4:45 pm, 11th October 2005

To help the Minister, the point I made was about legal motor sport in national parks. I referred to uses that would almost invariably be treated sympathetically by national park committees, such as use by farmers, but there are a number of such activities; for example, in my constituency, the Colonial trial—a national motorbike trial event—is held with the landowner's permission and is a valuable source of income for many farmers. It is a family activity and is by no means antisocial. I should like an assurance from the Minister, as some national park committees might take a dim view of that type of legal activity.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that for me. We are talking about rights of way and unsealed routes in national parks. The national park authority would have to make a judgment about whether it should use the powers for such things, but the Government have proven supportive of responsible use of motorised vehicles in the countryside, especially in our interpretation of the single payment scheme for farmers, to allow that sort of activity on land being claimed for SPS. The hon. Gentleman should take that as an indication that, although we intend to deal robustly with those who abuse the countryside with motorised vehicles, people who choose to be responsible and use vehicles without damaging the environment should be able to continue to do so.

I commend the new clause to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.