Pressure for changes to ‘right to roam’ law

THE Scottish Government is being urged to overhaul landmark “right to roam” legislation amid concerns that it is biased in favour of pro-access groups at the expense of rural homeowners.

A petition to come before MSPs this week raises concerns over the way paths are imposed on landowners who find it “impossible” to appeal against decision by councils to grant access.

According to landowner Wendy Barr, who has lodged a petition with Holyrood’s public petitions committee: “There is no support for the individual’s whose property is being accessed. I do not object to responsible individual access, however I believe the inequality of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act should be addressed.”

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She added that she had experienced the full extent of the legislation when two roads on her land had their status changed to favour public access.

The “right to roam” legislation was a flagship policy of the inaugural Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive in 2003, which established public access over most land and inland water in Scotland. But it has prompted fierce legal battles involving some of Scotland’s richest people keen to protect their estates from intrusion by ramblers and walkers.

This access is managed at a local level by councils and national parks, which have a duty to implement a plan for a system of core paths. But Barr insists the bulk of objections are “overruled and paths applied. The legislation as it stands at present is impossible to appeal against. The legislation is forced on to landowners and managers and authorities will not deal with objections”.

Under the current set-up, if valid objections to a core paths plan are not withdrawn, the plan will go a local inquiry and not be adopted unless directed to do so by ministers A separate independent body is now being called for to deal with objections and appeals to address the “inequality” suffered by homeowners in this situation.

The access legislation has brought several clashes between landowners and councils. Stagecoach founder Ann Gloag, one of Scotland’s richest businesswomen, was involved in a legal battle to secure an exemption from the right to roam laws. In a landmark 2007 judgment, she was given permission by a sheriff to prevent the public from entering land around Kinfauns Castle, in Perthshire.

Gloag’s victory prompted calls from ramblers and other countryside campaigners for the law to be tightened to protect the rights of walkers.