The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) yesterday called on Government and Local Authorities to carefully consider how they are going to safeguard the future management of all publicly owned land for both access and wildlife, setting out a number of measures which should be met before the sale or transfer of any land.
The call follows the recent announcement by the Peak District National Park Authority that the iconic publicly owned properties Stanage and the Roaches are to be disposed of through sale or long term lease (the Eastern Moors estate has already been leased out). Cuts in public spending can be expected to lead to many more such arrangements across the country.
'The BMC would prefer all publicly owned land to remain public' says Access and Conservation Officer Cath Flitcroft. 'However, in light of Government spending cuts, the recent review of the Forestry Commission Estate and the transfer of National Park assets to other bodies, it is clear that this is a real issue.'
'It is therefore timely to set out clearly measures which secure the appropriate management of these publicly owned and valued areas, and to consider the ways in which the delivery of benefits to public access and wildlife can be maximised.'
The BMC has identified a number of key measures in order to secure the most appropriate sale or transfer of public land. These are:
- Access must remain a key policy area of any new management plan. Permissive access as well as statutory access needs to be protected.
- Current levels of access (at a minimum) must be maintained.
- Sale or transfer of land to approved bodies and private land owners must require a guarantee of revenue funding for 30 years or more and have contingency funds available to cover unforeseen costs (e.g. to cover the costs of moorland fires).
- The complexity of running sites for recreation and conservation as well as other land management activities needs to be fully recognised. If new land owners get it wrong, there is no second chance.
- Lease or sale agreements must guarantee long term access rights are safeguarded (leaseholds and covenants must stand the test of time and re-sale).
- Organisations with a positive stance on access, recreation and conservation must be given preference. In particular, landowners who have the power to declare land inalienable; this provides additional protection against future developments on land.
- Sale or transfer of access conditions and rights will require a level of expertise to ensure arrangements are kept and met ad infinitum with no impact on the quality of the recreational or wildlife experience.
- The sale or transfer of public land must make clear, economic sense.
- Any new management arrangements must be transparent so the public know their rights.
- Government and Local Authorities must consult local community groups, users and the public at large about the possible transfer or sale on any publicly owned land.
- To further strengthen the above measures, the BMC recommends that where current access provision is not safeguarded in law, dedication through the CROW Act is sought, as has been the case with all of the BMC's own land holdings.
The BMC will also ensure that it is integrally involved with any new management structures introduced as part of a change in management to all publicly owned land of value to hill walkers, climbers and mountaineers alike.