Access to the Countrysitde of England and Wales: Public/Private Partnership or the Privatisation of Public Rights?


  • Neil Ravenscroft


This paper examines the evolutiqo._of oublic rights of access to private land in England and Wales. Since the . Eighteenth Century, the administration and protection of these rights has been through a form of public/private partnership in which the judiciary, while maintaining the dominance of private property, have safeguarded de facto public access by refusing consistently to punish simple trespass. "While this situation has been modified, principally by post-World War II legislation, to allow for some formalisation of access arrangements and consequent compensation to landowners in areas of high recreational pressure and low legal accessibility, recent policy initiatives suggest that the balance of the partnership has now shifted in favour of landowners. In particular, the new access payment schemes, developed by the UK Government in response to the European Commission's Agri-Environment Regulations, locate the landowner as the beneficiary of the partnership, financed by tax revenue and justified on the largely spurious basis of improved 'access provision'. As such the state, as the former upholder of citizen rights, now assumes the duplicitous position of underwriting private property ownership through paying for some types of access, while proclaiming a significant improvement in citizens' access rights.





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