Buckinghamshire County Council claims not to have much money for public paths (see recent blog) but it does have the money to present its Filming on Highways Bill in Parliament. The bill had its first reading in the House of Lords on 22 January.
This will allow the council to prohibit or restrict traffic on roads to enable filming to take place. The bill doesn’t make it clear that this applies to footpaths, bridleways and byways and their users too. Consequently, the Open Spaces Society and Ramblers Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area expressed concerns when they were consulted about the bill last year. Both organisations called for a number of conditions.
They said, among other things, that there must be rules to prevent approvals for named ways such as the Chiltern Way; notices must be put on all connecting paths; closures should only be approved if a reasonably convenient, non-vehicular alternative is provided; and during the closure period the film company staff should be required to be on duty at each end of the closed section, allowing walkers through when filming is not in progress. Effective publicity of closures is essential.
The council dispatched the matter in an eight-minute debate last September after which it resolved to go ahead, with no acknowledgement of the objections. The summary of comments contains some spin, for instance the Ramblers’ response was portrayed as ‘positive/some concerns’ whereas the Ramblers had said they did not object provided certain conditions were met, which of course is different. The summary omitted the comments from the parish councils of the two most-filmed villages in the county, Turville and Hambleden (Vicar of Dibley, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Midsomer Murders and many more). Turville Parish Council opposed the bill. Hambleden was unclear why it was needed and wanted to be sure that the council and residents were consulted before any filming occurred.
No doubt the bill will be passed and we wait to see whether any of the requested conditions are carried out in practice, since they are not in the bill itself.
The council claims that this bill will help Buckinghamshire’s economy. Whether it will make any difference seems doubtful since Bucks is already a popular venue, and it is hard to believe that film producers will check if there is an act of parliament in place before choosing a location.
The council estimated the cost of getting the bill through parliament (provided it’s unopposed) at around £50,000, although when one adds up its figures it is more like £65,000. That sum could employ about two staff to work for a year on public rights of way. What a difference that would make!
Surely it is better to invest in opening the path network for public enjoyment rather than closing it for filming. The Filming Bill is futile and flawed.