Unhappy with the paths in your area? Arguing with a landowner over access? Unsure what the new access law means for you? Fear not: help is at hand, in the form of a Local Access Forum (LAF) somewhere near you.
These mini-quangos are currently being set up by each local (and national park) authority in Scotland to carry out the following duties under the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act:
So far, most LAFs have only just been formed, and some (at time of writing, early March) have not even met. In the NEMT area, the most relevant ones are the Cairngorms Local Outdoor Access Forum (elegantly acronymed as CLOAF or LOAF, partly to avoid confusion with access to buildings etc. by disabled people) and the (non-CNP) Aberdeenshire LAF, which had its first formal meeting in late February. Most LAFs have been appointed as a group of about 16 after a more or less widespread public invitation for nominations within four groups – users (e.g. walkers, mountaineers, cyclists, horseriders, canoeists), land managers (mainly from the farmer and landowner unions), communities, and agencies (e.g. the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage). Bob Reid, of Aberdeen and mountaineering fame, chairs a National Access Forum.
So much for facts and theory: what about future reality? Given the competition for LAF places amongst users, the four or so representatives of this group will have to be openminded, in order to deal not only with ‘unrepresented’ users, but also with clashes of interests between them. Working groups are likely to be formed for particular areas or topics (e.g. Deeside, disabled access), and should allow wider representation. A communications strategy (face-to-face, paper-based, web-site) will need to be set up for the National Access Forum, the public and the media. Crucially, relationships between an LAF and its parent authority need to be established: should the former act towards the latter as a lapdog, a guide dog, a watchdog or a rottweiler?! The new Act leaves much to commonsense over “responsible access”, and to case law if necessary: neither are impervious to public opinion, as (one hopes) represented by the Forums. Locally, a cooperative approach, based on mutual support between the LAF and its chair on the one hand, and the authority's councillors (or board members) and staff on the other, should maximise both the resources and the thought going into outdoor access in the years ahead: watch this space!
Further details on LAFs and outdoor access generally are available on the SNH website.
Ken Thomson, Secretary of the Cairngorm Club, and a “user group” member of the Aberdeenshire LAF
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