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National Parks

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 27 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about funding for measures to combat footpath erosion in national parks.

Seventy-five per cent. of national parks approved expenditure is met by the Government through national parks supplementary grant. Aggregate NPSG is based on bids for resources made by each national park for identified national and local priorities, including counter-erosion work and rights of way. Aggregate NPSG for 1990–91 is £9.97 million, an increase of almost 10 per cent. over 1989–90 figures, and over 20 per cent. in real terms since the Government took office in 1979.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I am sure that he is well aware of the growing problems of footpath erosion in the Yorkshire dales on mountains such as Whernside, Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough, in north Wales on Tryfar, and in the Lake District. Will he ensure that there are sufficient funds to protect footpaths from erosion and that we open up far larger areas of the countryside so that the wear and tear can be spread over a greater area, not concentrated on one or two honey spots which people visit at present?

I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's point. There has been adequate funding in this year's public expenditure survey round. Given sufficient funding in the forthcoming PES round, we hope to be able to accommodate maintenance in the districts to which he referred.

Will my hon. Friend take cognisance of the fact that in some national parks, footpaths are also used by horse riders and some walkers complain that footpaths get cut up? Will he ensure that there is always money to maintain the paths that horses also use and remind walkers that if it is muddy, they need to wear gumboots?

I am happy to echo the commercial that my hon. Friend has made to the House and confirm—I have a personal interest in the matter—that I consider bridleways to be as important as footpaths.

Does not the Minister realise that there is insufficient money to protect footpaths from erosion? Is he aware that footpath erosion results from too many people walking along the same paths? Is not it important to keep access open throughout the national parks? Will he confirm that he does not in any way support landowners in the North Yorkshire national park authority who wish to take away the public's freedom of access and, in so doing, threaten public access throughout the country?

I am happy to confirm to the hon. Lady and the House that the Government, particularly the Department of the Environment, through the Countryside Commission, are very much in favour of improved access to the countryside, but on authorised routes and recognised footpaths that are legally marked on maps. I know that the hon. Lady would support that.