The BMC and MLTE recently attended a conference held by United Utilities (UU) at which they detailed proposals to implement a scheme to charge ‘commercial’ groups for the privilege of accessing their land.
The company owns approx. 58,000 hectares including substantial parts of the Lake District including, Ennerdale, Haweswater, Thirlmere, the Shap fells, Bowland, and further south the Longdendale/Chew/Goyt valley’s, and other parts of the Dark Peak. Many of these holdings are now designated as Open Access land under the CRoW Act.
UU have an ‘over-riding principle to waive any charges where the sole purpose of the event is either educational or to benefit a charity’ – a questionable statement in itself as it presupposes people should be charged for access, but they are prepared to waive payment in some cases.
This highly contentious policy has developed from UU’s interpretation of wording in the CRoW Act, which states ‘a person is not entitled to be on Open Access land if they are engaged in any activity which is organised or undertaken (whether by him or another) for any commercial purpose,’ - ‘commercial’ being defined as an operation where ‘profit is the primary motive.’
Following the presentation we questioned UU representatives, and it appears there is some debate about the legality of the proposal in relation to public Rights of Way legislation and accepted activities named within the Act.
They also stated they do not want to target individual climbers, hill-walkers or clubs, but do intend to compile a database of groups, centres and instructors using their land and implement a charging system on them.
UU intend to administrate the scheme through a bureaucratic licence scheme requiring an event outline, participant lists, risk assessments, insurance details for which they intend charge an approx. £30-50 admin. fee and £1/person for participants.
In the case of outdoor centres or individual instructors an annual permit scheme is proposed requiring applicants to divulge details on the income generated from activities on UU land and on the proportion of charitable, educational and commercial work they do – all a bit ‘Big Brother.’
The bottom line is the initiative is a very worrying development and sets a dangerous precedent for the outdoor community. If UU’s scheme proves successful, who knows what other landowner’s throughout England and Wales may do in the future?
Charging for access goes against a fundamental principle of the BMC - free access for all - and we intend to continue working with partners and contacts to ensure UU are fully aware of the strength of feeling from the outdoor community on this - watch this space.
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