Brooks Newmark tables new clauses to the Deregulation Bill that would allow more flexibility to divert or extinguish intrusive public rights of way that cross family gardens, working farmyards or commercial premises.
Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I shall speak to new clauses 17, 18 and 19.
Many people up and down the country, especially in rural areas, face the daily personal stress and blight of their properties caused by highly intrusive public rights of way across their land, including the gardens of family homes and working farmyards, as well as commercial premises. The new clauses that I propose set out how local authorities should respond to requests to divert or extinguish rights of way, to applications under the right to apply introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, or negotiation under the new modification consent order process set out in paragraph 5 of schedule 7 to the Bill. Specifically, my new clauses 17, 18 and 19 address and amend sections 119, 118 and 116 respectively of the Highways Act 1980.
It might be helpful for the Minister to have a little context and background to my new clauses. The existence of public rights of way within private property raises several concerns, many of which have been highlighted to me by my constituents. Most important among them is the security of the family and property of the landowner, in particular the security of young children. Having in their back yard a public footpath that anyone can access is worrying for parents and impacts on the daily life of their families.
Mr Andrew Turner: Is my hon. Friend aware that people who own such footpaths can apply for them to be moved? I do not see why he is proposing an alternative method.
Mr Newmark: As my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) pointed out, there are issues of safety and security. This is not a subject that I knew anything about until it was raised with me by several constituents, who are extremely frustrated with the existing process designed to protect their family and property. That is what my new clauses are about.
Following on from this are concerns with potential infringements on the privacy of residents and their expectation of being able to relax without strangers appearing in the same contained space. Pathways across land can also potentially reduce the value of the property. That, by the way, is probably the least of my concerns, but it has been raised by my constituents. Finally, farmyard operations put the public potentially at risk because of the limited space through which these routes pass.
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): I could accept what the hon. Gentleman says if he were referring to hustling, for example, but the fact that he does not seem to address is that many rights of way are very historic. When I was taken by my grandfather to the footpath that went from Esclusham Above to Esclusham Below, I did it in the knowledge that he went with his grandfather. Such rights are intrinsic in our rural areas. That is what we are frightened about.
Mr Newmark: Yes, yes. I am totally sympathetic with what the hon. Lady says. I am not trying to change historic rights of way. My intention is to create more flexibility in the system to allow paths that go right past people’s front doors and their gardens to be moved slightly. I am not looking to stop people’s access to those ancient rights of way.
In order to solve these problems, the owner of the land in question must seek an order to divert or extinguish the right of way through a modification consent order or an application for public path order. This guidance applies where a public right of way passes through a garden which forms part of the curtilage of a residential dwelling, a working farmyard or forestry yard, or other operational business or working industrial premises. The interests of the landowner must be weighed against the overall impact on the public as a whole—a point that Opposition Members emphasised—and the privacy, security and safety of the landowner are all considerations to which due weight should be given. Furthermore, if the public right of way is extinguished, it should be diverted elsewhere in order to reduce inconvenience to the public.
Now that I have laid out at least some of the rationale for my new clauses, let me touch briefly on each new clause in turn. New clause 17, entitled “Presumed diversion of intrusive public rights of way in limited circumstances”, amends section 119 of the Highways Act 1980 and facilitates statutory guidance to allow for the diversion of rights of way that pass through domestic or business premises on the grounds of privacy, safety or security. New clause 18, entitled “Presumed extinguishment of intrusive public rights of way in limited circumstances”, amends section 118 of the 1980 Act and facilitates statutory guidance to allow for the extinguishment of rights of way that pass through domestic or business premises on the grounds of privacy, safety or security if a diversion is not possible as the right of way provides access to a vital local service or amenity not otherwise accessible. Finally, new clause 19, entitled “Presumed extinguishment of intrusive byways open to all traffic in limited circumstances”, is an amendment to section 116 of the Highways Act 1980 and creates a presumption that byways open to all traffic should be diverted so as not to pass through residential or business premises unless the byway does not impact on the privacy, safety or security of the premises or provides access to a vital local service or amenity not otherwise accessible.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that although it is essential that we respect the ancient rights provided by footpaths and byways that the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) spoke about in her intervention, it is important that we also respect the privacy, safety and security of individuals and their property. That is the narrow path that I am trying to navigate. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that new clauses 17, 18 and 19 are drafted both to be reasonable to landowners and to respect the rights of individuals to have access to byways, especially if those byways provide access to a vital local service or amenity not otherwise accessible. In this spirit I look forward to his response to new clauses 17, 18 and 19 as well as to new clause 15, which is proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire. I end by thanking my constituent Roger Duffin for raising this important issue and for his guidance in enabling me to draft a constructive solution to a sensitive problem.