All Local Authorities and National Park Authorities are required under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (‘CRoW Act’) to establish a Local Access Forum to provide strategic advice on ‘the improvement of public access to and in that area for the purposes of open-air recreation and the enjoyment of the area, and as to such other matters as may be prescribed’. The membership of this group must be balanced between different interests in the countryside so that it can provide well-argued, unbiased advice.
The Act requires Councils and the Countryside to take the forum’s advice into consideration with regard to such matters. The forum does not have decision making powers, nor is it a statutory body for consultations on matters such as diversions. The highway authority must consult the forum prior to making bylaws relating to access land, appointing wardens for access land, when developing the rights of way improvement plan.
Purpose of Forum
The aim of the Local Forum is to:
Provide guidance and contribute towards improving opportunities to enjoy and the management of the Essex countryside.
The remit of the Essex Local Access Forum is to:
- Respond to the Draft and Provisional Maps of Open Access Land for Essex and to perform a statutory duty to advise on the improvement of public access to land in the area for the purposes of open-air recreation and the enjoyment of the area, as described in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
- Contribute in an advisory capacity to the development of the Rights of Way Improvement Plan(s) for Essex.
- Promote the appropriate use of opportunities to enjoy the countryside, and to foster better understanding of the varying needs of the different types of users.
- Advise upon the appropriate management and maintenance of access, balancing the provision of access against the needs of biodiversity, wildlife management and of land – owners and managers.
- Advise on developing additional opportunities for everyone to enjoy the rights of way and access network, in particular for those with disabilities.
Membership of Forum
It is likely that the forum will often be discussing contentious issues and that their advice will guide policies and actions of the County Council. Therefore, it is vital that the membership of the forum represents a wide range of interests and is balanced between the wish to increase access and the need to protect the landscape and its economic use. To ensure that this is achieved the County Council as appointing body has agreed that the forum should include representation of the areas of interest listed below.
- Other Sports (land, air and water)
- Equestrian (riding and driving)
- Motorised vehicle use
- Disabled access
- Ethnic minority groups
- Rural Business Conservation
- Councillor (to represent county, borough/district and parish councils)
An ability for each member to recognise the validity of the views of others and to seek consensus will be vital, as will independence from the views of any particular organisation.
In addition to members of the forum, observers may attend meetings and can comment but cannot vote; these will include officers from the authorities and Natural England, who are overseeing Local Access Forums across the country.
The forum will meet 5 or 6 times a year a year, mid-week daytime/evening meetings but this is to be determined by the members themselves. Members will be expected to attend all meetings but must attend a minimum of two per year; membership should be for an initial period of one to three years, and may be renewed. Members will be expected to actively seek the views of the interest group (not just one organisation) they represent and to spread news of the work of the forum. Please see “Members’ Role and Responsibilities” for further details.
AUTHORITIES’ ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Essex County Council will:
- Provide a venue and refreshments for meetings of the Essex Local Access Forum.
- Provide a secretariat and on-going support and advice to the forum as a whole and to individual forum members.
- Reimburse forum members for out-of-pocket expenses, limited to expenses incurred through travel and subsistence costs, if agreed in advance, and childcare.
- Relay the advice given by the forum to the relevant board and/or cabinet members of the authority at appropriate times.
- Promote the work of the forum through available means including press release and a web-site.
MEMBERS’ ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Applicants will be expected to undertake all the duties given below.
- Be representative of access land, rights of way users, owners or occupiers of land, or other related interests especially relevant to Essex.
- Provide an independent view, rather than reflect the views of any particular organisations(s)
- Pursue opportunities to publicise the work of the forum and obtain feedback through newsletters or other means, within that member’s own organisation(s) and also others with similar interests active within the area covered by the forum.
- Be expected to attend all meetings (5 or 6 meetings a year), but must attend a minimum of two meetings a year, deputies will be allowed at no more than one meeting a year with prior agreement from the organising authority.
- Be willing to serve on the forum for an initial period of between one and three years (term may be extended if acceptable to the appointing authorities and the members concerned).
- Allow a picture, brief biography and e-mail address to be available to members of the public and other interested parties to be placed on the Essex Local Access Forum web site.
- Regularly check that e-mail address and relevant comments on any web-site discussion board, if established in relation to the forum, reply to messages requiring a response (or raise these promptly with the appropriate County Council officer for response at the next Local Access Forum Meeting) and convey the broad content of e-mails to the forum when appropriate.
- Similarly, reply to written comments/enquiries (or raise these promptly with the appropriate County Council officer for response at the next Local Access Forum Meeting) and convey their broad content to the forum when appropriate.