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Right to roam plaque unveiled

Carl Lis and Jerry Pearlman at Stalling Busk
Carl Lis and Jerry Pearlman at Stalling Busk
Ramblers at the unveiling of the Stalling Busk Conference plaque, with Carl Lis furthest right alongside Jerry Pearlman holding a framed copy of the Ramblers' Access Bill
Ramblers at the unveiling of the Stalling Busk Conference plaque, with Carl Lis furthest right alongside Jerry Pearlman holding a framed copy of the Ramblers' Access Bill

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Bainbridge, 13 October, 2017

The Ramblers’ walking charity has unveiled a blue plaque in the small village of Stalling Busk, to mark a key moment in the development of England and Wales’ right to roam laws.

The plaque remembers the ‘Stalling Busk Conference’ of August 1996, a meeting of Ramblers’ campaign planners about a prototype ‘Access Bill’.

This bill would become the basis for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which gave the public freedom to walk on mapped mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chairman Carl Lis spoke at the unveiling of the plaque (on Saturday 7 October).  He said the legislation had a “momentous” impact, increasing the area of open access land in the national park from four per cent to about 62 per cent overnight.

The 1996 conference was held in the old school house at Stalling Busk, next door to a cottage owned by Jerry Pearlman, the Ramblers’ former honorary solicitor and a former member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.  The plaque is on the cottage.

Jerry Pearlman said:  “We needed somewhere quiet, somewhere where we could think carefully about what we were proposing.  Stalling Busk was the perfect place for that.  The conference focussed minds and generated momentum. It was an important occasion and means much to the Ramblers.”

A year after the Stalling Busk Conference, Paddy Tipping MP introduced the Access Bill – by then called the Access to the Countryside Bill – to the Commons, under what is known as a ten minute rule bill. This tested the waters.

Some months later Gordon Prentice MP brought a Private Member’s Bill, the ‘Right to Roam Bill’, which was the same as the Access to the Countryside Bill, only with more detail.

The government liked it, announcing on 8 March 1999 that it would support a right to roam. Gordon Prentice withdrew his bill to pave the way for the government’s Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.

In a briefing note written in advance of the unveiling of the plaque in Stalling Busk, Jerry Pearlman said: “I remember the civil servant dealing with drafting the new bill saying that she did not have to start with a clean sheet of paper.  She could take our Bill and use it as the basis for the legislation.

“Future generations will decide whether the right to roam is a good or necessary thing.  I think it can be seen as one of the greatest changes in English land law that ever took place.”

Carl Lis, in his speech, said: “The right to roam legislation brought about an extraordinary change that, in spite of all the doom mongers saying it would be something of a disaster, has proved to be a wonderful asset – and attractor of people – to the Yorkshire Dales.

“The greatest accolade that I can pay to those responsible for developing and introducing the new access legislation is that their legacy is one that will be felt by generations to come.”

Unveiling the plaque, the Ramblers’ vice-president Janet Street-Porter said: “There are three basic freedoms: the freedom to vote, the freedom to be equal, and the freedom to walk in as many places as possible.  The 1996 meeting was a vital step in the Ramblers’ campaign towards the third of those freedoms.”

The plaque says:

The Right to Roam

The Stalling Busk conference

The Ramblers met here to draft what became

Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

August 1996.

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