What is the Devon Countryside Access Forum?
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW Act), each highway authority is required to establish a local access forum to give independent advice on public access to land for the purposes of open-air recreation and enjoyment. The Devon Countryside Access Forum, established in spring 2003, covers the whole of Devon except for the National Parks and unitary authorities and is financially supported by Devon County Council. The National Parks, Plymouth and Torbay each have their own local access forum.
Who is on the Devon Countryside Access Forum?
The Forum currently has fifteen members with wide-ranging experience and interests; two Councillors and thirteen members of the public, recruited and appointed by Devon County Council following open advertising. Members represent landowners and managers; access users (such as walkers, horse-riders and cyclists) and other interests, for example tourism, conservation, disability issues and law. Members are expected to engage in debate and seek consensus wherever possible. Those on the Forum give their time on a voluntary basis but mileage (at 45p per mile) and other appropriate expenses are paid.
What is the role of the Devon Countryside Access Forum?
The role of the Forum is to provide independent advice on a wide range of issues relating to recreational and functional access in both rural and urban areas. Its remit is to advise the Council and other specified bodies: district, borough, town and parish councils; the Secretary of State for any Government Department; Natural England; the Forestry Commission; English Heritage; Sport England and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Conservation Boards. Its main purpose is to advise on how to make the countryside and green space more accessible and enjoyable for recreation.
The Forum is primarily concerned with:
- improving the provision of access and opportunities for recreation;
- management of Public Rights of Way;
- the Rights of Way Improvement Plan; and
- implementation of access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and coastal access under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
The Rights of Way Improvement Plan
The Rights of Way Improvement Plan was published by Devon County Council in 2005 and reviewed in 2012. It is due to be reviewed again in 2022. The Forum will continue to advise on strategic aspects of the Plan, funding and priorities. In addition, it may comment on the following:
- the opportunities provided by local rights of way for exercise and open-air recreation and enjoyment of the surrounding landscape;
- the accessibility of local rights of way to blind or partially sighted persons and others with mobility problems;
- the extent to which public rights of way meet present and likely future needs of the public; and
- new opportunities to access the countryside, particularly linear routes.
The Forum will continue to be consulted on:
- byelaws made by the local highway authority which affect access land;
- the appointment of any wardens for access land;
- directions to restrict or exclude access from access land for greater than six months; and
- disseminating information and advising on how the public should be made aware of access opportunities and restrictions.
In addition, the Forum is involved in the process for implementing coastal access and designating spreading room under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 – the England Coast Path. The sections from Combe Martin to Marsland Mouth and Cremyll to Kingswear are partially approved. The section from Kingswear to Lyme Regis is approved. Work to establish the route on approved sections is taking place.
Other areas of advice
These may cover:
- providing advice on wider plans and strategies for landscape, recreation, transport, health, tourism and information;
- commenting on priorities for the public rights of way network;
- commenting on the co-ordination of resources to enable integrated recreation and access;
- considering the extent to which fair provision is made for current and potential users;
- responding to national consultation documents affecting access which may be produced by Defra, Natural England or other organisations.
What does the Forum take account of when it makes its comments?
The Forum, in providing advice, has to take account of:
- land management needs;
- conservation requirements;
- landscape value and public enjoyment;
- social, economic and educational interests; and
- statutory guidance.
When does it meet?
The Forum usually holds public meetings three times a year. In addition, a training day and occasional working group meetings are held. There is some email business between meetings, usually to finalise consultation responses.
How do I find out about the Devon Countryside Access Forum?
The Forum website www.devon.gov.uk/dcaf is regularly updated to include agendas, minutes and other reports. It also includes links to other relevant sites.
Guidance on Local Access Forums provided by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, updated in 2009, provides information on the full scope of local access forum activities and the statutory framework. Further details and links are on https://www.gov.uk/local-access-forums-participate-in-decisions-on-public-access.