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Government Legislation Moves To Eliminate Off-Road Motoring
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Government Legislation Moves To Eliminate Off-Road Motoring - October 31st 2005

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    The Motor Cycle Industry Association is outraged by the Parliament's decision to virtually eliminate to motorised use of Britain's unsurfaced road network. This will result in all private motorcycles including trail bikes, and cars being banned from large numbers of 'green lanes', which currently only comprise 5% of England and Wales public rights of way.

    The Government has caved in to pressure led by extremist ramblers who already have exclusive use of 95% of unsurfaced rights of way. A result will be that many green lanes will become overgrown and become impassable.

    The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Bill that received its third reading last week removes any existing public Right of Way (RoW) status from an unsurfaced road if that RoW is not already recorded on a county's definitive map and statement as a 'Byway Open to all Traffic' (BOAT).

    The law also gives National Park Authorities the power to impose Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) on byways in National Parks. This means a ban on trail bikes and other vehicles from the using the majority of unsurfaced roads within the UK.

    This legislation appears to have been fuelled by illegal and nuisance motorcycling on some rights of way and the growth in the illegal use of mini-bikes in public areas including parks and other open spaces.

    The proposed legislation, which will now be considered by the House of Lords will have a limited effect on the perceived problem as the people who are currently breaking the law, on rights of way where vehicles are not allowed, will continue to do so as levels of enforcement are unlikely to increase.

    Throughout the political process to date, the motorcycle community has kept an active dialogue with Ministers and DEFRA officials and have presented alternative proposals for rights of way management which struck a balance between access by motor vehicles and the wishes of those who seek peace and quiet in the countryside.

    However, the Minister Jim Knight MP caved in to pressure from hostile MPs on all parties largely on the basis of misinformation about illegal use of off-road vehicles and the number of vehicular access claims being made whilst negotiations were under way. Anti vehicle lobby groups had persuaded MPs that hundreds of claims had been made in anticipation of the passage of the NERC Bill.

    The reality is that the number of claims quoted were cumulative from 1968, with many of these being simple claims for access rights from property owners wishing to establish right of access from a road to a building.

    Hysterical images painted by certain MPs about over-use of legal byways were fanned by ill-informed lobby groups, most notably the Ramblers Association.

    The Institute of Public Rights of Way Officers stated earlier this year that motor vehicle use on Rights of Way was "perceived as a problem, rather than actually being one". In addition, the Government's own Faber-Maunsell Report on the Impact of Motor Vehicle Use on off-tarmac routes (2003) concluded that damage to unsealed rights of way by vehicles was minimal and there were no grounds to assume that such use caused significant problems for other recreational users or those living in the countryside.

    MCI's Craig Carey-Clinch said; " The new law demonstrates a lack of respect for the law-abiding motorcyclist and will mainly serve to penalise and criminalise many because of the inappropriate and irresponsible behaviour of a few.

    "This is legislation born of misinformation and a dislike of anything with an engine which has been pedalled to great effect by a mean minded and intolerant anti vehicle lobby of ramblers and their cohorts. As things stand now, motor vehicles are only allowed on 5% of the UK's network of unsurfaced rights of way -- the ramblers have the other 95% to themselves. Tolerance for the choices of individuals in the countryside is clearly right off the agenda.

    "Having recently gained access to large swathes of the countryside through Right to Roam provisions, the peevish and shrill ramblers lobby has now turned its guns on vehicle access to the countryside. This is a lobby which will not rest until they have secured everything for themselves and in the process turned the countryside into a sterile museum piece. It is outrageous that Government and MPs have chosen to ignore common sense proposals regarding rural vehicle management, having instead been fooled into believing what is nothing short of misinformation and propaganda.

    "No mistake should be made about this -- illegal use will not be curtailed as resources for enforcement simply don't exist. Perceived problems with vehicle use on rights of way will, if anything, get worse as criminalised riders and drivers may, having lost all faith in this Government's ability to be fair minded about countryside matters, simply carry on using Rights of Way as they did before.

    "The House of Lords have a chance to avoid this disaster and the industry urges Peers and Ministers in the Lords to take a more balanced approach by engaging properly with the motorcycle and motoring community and restoring common sense to the legislation."