“Public access is a public good”

Permissive Access – a way forward?

In 2005  the Government set up the Environmental Stewardship Scheme by means of which farmers received payments to open up permissive access routes on their land. However this scheme was dropped in 2014 and farmers are no longer paid to enable new permissive paths. Last year Environment Secretary Michael Gove introduced the welcome notion of public money for public goods in his Agriculture bill, and public access to the countryside has been recognised by him to be important. However what this means exactly for creating permissive access in future is unknown – and certainly some way off.

In the mean time, the agreements made for permissive access to farmland, set for a fixed period, have been lapsing and this valuable type of access is gradually being lost. The Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) say that the length of these permissive paths in Norfolk stood at 158 miles in 2016, but with agreements expiring there are now estimated to be only 65 miles remaining – and all of those will disappear in time. 

Sites of permissive access paths in Norfolk.

Sites of permissive access paths in Norfolk. Most are set to disappear in the next couple of years.

A bright spot and possible way to re-instate (and maybe add) some permissive paths comes from Bradenham thanks to action by Bradenham Parish Council who have reached an agreement with a local landowner for a new five-year Access Scheme. The scheme, which provides 12km of paths in an area which has few PRoWs,  was developed in conjunction with Norfolk FWAG and the Norfolk Local Access Forum.  Of course there is a cost to the Parish Council, but it does show that local communities can, if they wish, take control and provide access to this particular “public good”.

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