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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK


Anger as landowner heads Countryside Agency

The countryside covers 88% of the UK

The UK Government has unveiled the new Countryside Agency with criticism from environment campaigners ringing in their ears.

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The agency has been given the task of preserving and reviving rural areas. But ramblers have complained that landowner Ewen Cameron should not have been appointed as its chairman.

The BBC's Environment Correspondent Margaret Gilmore says they are worried that Mr Cameron may reduce ramblers' walking routes.

Mr Cameron is former president of the Country Landowners' Association (CLA), which is opposed to letting people roam freely in the countryside.

Mr Cameron, who was appointed by Environment Minister Michael Meacher, has denied that he is against giving more rights to the ramblers.

The BBC's Environment Correspondent Margaret Gilmore: "This first report makes for gloomy reading"
The agency's first report depicts a countryside deprived of resources and starved of infrastructure, jobs and a coherent strategy.

It said on Monday that low-cost housing and a switch away from small estates of luxury detached properties would help spark new life into dying rural villages.

More needs to be done to encourage young people to stay in their villages, it said, but shortage of housing is a major problem.

The rented sector in rural districts lost 91,000 homes between 1985 and 1990, and studies show that two-thirds of households cannot afford to buy an adequately sized home.

[ image:  ]
The agency's Chief Executive Richard Wakeford said the Right to Buy legislation, introduced by the Tory Government, had contributed to this shortage. The measure allowed tenants to buy their homes at a discount.

He said the agency would be looking at use of land alongside urban areas.

He said it would be better not to regard the Green Belt as "sacrosanct," but added that in most cases it should remain undeveloped.

He also said the housing shortage should influence what people do with development land when it becomes available in villages.

"People should ask themselves whether it is right to let that land go for four or five executive homes, when the site could take 10 to 15 houses for people of more modest means," he said.

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Ramblers' Association

Country Landowners' Association

Countryside Commission

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