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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 07/12/2004
Countryside Review and Role in Managing Countryside Land Not Owned by Waverley Borough Council



Summary & Purpose
Given the existing budget pressure, the Environment and Leisure Department is undertaking a review of the Countryside Service and the work that it undertakes. One of the key issues that needs clarification, at a time when resources to operate the section are severely limited, is the role of the Countryside Service in managing land not owned by the Council. This report sets out the issues relating to this aspect and provides policy recommendations for the Council to consider.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
N/A
Positive
N/A


APPENDIX DD
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE – 7TH DECEMBER 2004

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Title:
COUNTRYSIDE REVIEW AND ROLE IN MANAGING COUNTRYSIDE
LAND NOT OWNED BY WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

[Wards Affected: All]
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Summary and purpose:

Given the existing budget pressure, the Environment and Leisure Department is undertaking a review of the Countryside Service and the work that it undertakes. One of the key issues that needs clarification, at a time when resources to operate the section are severely limited, is the role of the Countryside Service in managing land not owned by the Council. This report sets out the issues relating to this aspect and provides policy recommendations for the Council to consider.

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Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

The Countryside Service manages significant areas of land and its work brings benefits to the Borough and its residents through conserving the local landscape and biodiversity and providing extensive areas for access and informal recreation. It also has responsibilities to manage the land in a way that protects public safety and property.

E-Government implications:

There are no e-government implications arising from this report.

Resource and legal implications:

The Countryside Section does not have sufficient staff or operational budget to meet its full range of duties and responsibilities on all the countryside land it currently manages within the Borough. The recommendations of this report will reduce the extent of the service’s existing commitments, by ceasing work on 41 sites not owned by or leased to Waverley Borough Council and therefore enable the staff time and costs used on these sites to be re-focused on essential duties on the remaining sites, so assisting the service to operate more effectively within the existing limited budgets.

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Waverley’s Countryside Resource

1. Waverley is special because of the large areas of unspoilt and accessible countryside that make it an attractive place to live and work. Waverley Borough Council’s General Survey (2003) showed access to nature and countryside was the third most important factor (49%) that made Waverley a good place to live, with 22% of residents using parks, open spaces and countryside every day and 32% at least once a week. Countryside has been shown to be good for people’s health and well-being.

2. The Countryside Service manages 126 sites covering 1,110 hectares (2,775 acres) across the Borough. This substantial land management role has been passed to the Council in a variety of ways, principally through transfer from predecessor authorities in 1974, but also by virtue of direct acquisition, planning gains and leases.

3. Of this, 840 hectares is registered common land that includes important landscape and recreational areas, such as Cranleigh, Dunsfold and Frensham Commons. In all, Waverley is responsible for the management of 32% of all the common land within the Borough. Waverley Countryside also manages 270 hectares of other public open space, including Farnham Park and the Downs Link.

4. Nearly half of the land (525 hectares) managed by Waverley Countryside is designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) for their national wildlife importance. Frensham and Mare Hill are also within a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) that have European importance. A number of other sites (12) are of local wildlife importance as Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCIs) and five sites are Local Nature Reserves (LNRs).

5. The public has a right of access to all of the sites managed by Waverley Countryside; this represents a large recreational resource that is well used by local people.

Responsibilities

6. With the management of this significant land area come certain duties and responsibilities. The most important of these are the responsibilities as landowners and the duty of care to the public visiting the land. These necessitate a high degree of priority and vigilance due to the increase in litigation and increasingly stringent Health and Safety requirements. Action is required on:-

Staff and Operational Resources to Carry out Countryside Work

7. The Countryside Ranger Service consists of 4 permanent full-time rangers working out of two remote bases and supported by one temporary assistant ranger (on a year contract from May 2004). Prior to April 2003 there were two assistant rangers. However, these appointments were not renewed due to budget cuts. The high visitor numbers at Frensham Common require one ranger to work exclusively on that site. Farnham Park also requires a high level of visitor supervision. The rest of the 124 sites are divided between the remaining 3 rangers on the basis of location and size.

8. The large number of small and fragmented sites distributed across the Borough makes it time-consuming to manage. Hazardous work such as chainsaw and tree climbing requires two staff to be present on site, which reduces operational efficiency.

9. It is estimated that 6.8 man years of time are required to carry out all routine work on the 126 sites ie 1.8 man years more than the existing staffing level (see Annexe 3).

10. The Countryside section has a buildings and grounds maintenance budget of 91,500 for 2004/05, which is equivalent to 82/hectare (33/acre). It is estimated that an annual buildings and grounds maintenance budget of 140,000 is required to meet all of our future commitments (Annexe 3).

Role in Countryside Land Not Owned By Waverley Borough Council

11. Of the 1,110 hectares managed by the Countryside Service, 10% of this area covering 41 sites (see Annexe 1) is land where, legally, the Council is neither the owner nor has it any leasehold responsibilities. This land falls into 4 categories:-

Current Situation

12. The role of the Countryside Service in those sites not owned or leased, has been `ad hoc`. It has, from time to time, included dealing with fallen and dangerous trees, ditch clearance, grass mowing, path clearance, litter collection, habitat work, dealing with encroachments, parking issues and general queries/problems. Most of the work is reactive, with the exception of Crooksbury Hill where a full site management role is carried out.

13. Following a review of the Countryside Service, it is now apparent that the Countryside Section will not have sufficient staff or operational budget, in the future, to meet the whole range of responsibilities on all of the land it currently manages. It is, therefore, proposed that the Council should consider its future role in the management and maintenance of land for which it has no responsibility, as outlined above. It is recommended that the following course of action should be taken:-

14. By restricting the work of the Countryside Section only to land owned by or leased to the Council, more resources will be available to deal with sites for which the Council has direct responsibility. Failure by the Council to maintain the land it owns or leases to the required standard could open the Council up to significant risk.

Implications

15. Public access to these sites would not be affected by this action as it is secured by Section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, which provides for the public to have rights of `fresh air and exercise`; and also the recent `open access` legislation covering all registered common land (Countryside and Rights Of Way Act 2000).

16. Where land is privately owned, management would pass back to the owner. On Section 9 land, the County as highway authority would have responsibility for trees and verges within the highway strip and on the remainder of the land the County or Parish could, if it chose to, take a role.

17. On the small number of sites where Waverley has historically chosen to carry out maintenance (such as grass cutting and ditching) there will inevitably be some complaints from residents when the Council stops such works.

18. If the Council approves the recommendations, the proposals will be implemented from 1st January 2005 and the following action will be taken to inform interested parties of the decisions taken and the reasons for the change:-

(i) Section 9 land - officers will meet with the relevant parish councils.

(ii) Privately owned land - officers will write to landowners.
Conclusion

19. It is clear the Countryside Section does not have sufficient staff or operational budget to carry out its full role on all the sites it currently manages. Critical decisions need to be made now on Countryside’s future role and priorities. This paper addresses one of the key issues emerging from the review of the service and proposes a policy decision that will assist in making best use of the scarce resources, by restricting the Countryside Section’s work to land owned by and leased to Waverley Borough Council. If the recommendation is not endorsed, the section will need additional resources to cover all the 1,110 hectares in order to ensure the Council meets all its future countryside commitments.

Recommendation

The Executive is requested to: 1. note the resource constraints on the Countryside Service; and 2. recommend to Council that the proposal that the Countryside Section restricts its work only to land owned by and leased to the Council as from 1st January 2005 be endorsed and that officers should inform the relevant persons and bodies affected by this decision.

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Background Papers (DoE&L)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Jane Bowden Telephone: 01483 523443

E-mail: jbowden@waverley.gov.uk

comms/exec/04-05/306