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Compensation culture must not shut off Britain’s heritage

In a society increasingly motivated by winning compensation for ‘accidents that weren’t your fault’, people will sue for anything in Britain these days. From slipping on rogue tomatoes on supermarket floors to sliding on militant leaves on park pathways, we love public and private bodies paying out for ‘damages’.

Some argue that people are only getting the compensation that is deserved. This, to some extent may be true, especially when serious accidents result in loss of earnings through having to take time off from work. To take a hypothetical example: being involved in a large industrial accident resulting in multiple burns deserves compensation.

But a minor accident that requires patching up with nothing more than a pathetic sized sticking plaster is something completely different. It’s just a fact of life that fruit falls onto the floor of a supermarket, leaves fall from trees and grass can sometimes get wet (especially when it’s been raining). It’s bad enough having signs warning that surfaces can be ‘slippery when wet’. However, wasting public money on expensive legal compensation cases is even worse.

This growing compensation culture could threaten access to Britain’s rich heritage, according to Rodney Legg, a long-serving council member of the National Trust. He worries whole swathes of the charity’s estates will be closed off to the public as a result.

Mr Legg is right when, in an interview with The Times today, he says that the National Trust must “heighten its risk profile by inviting people to step on to our land, fall into lakes and get clobbered by wind-born debris from our 6 to 12 million trees.”

As I’ve said before on these pages, Britain’s heritage is for all to enjoy. That right shouldn’t be threatened by greedy people making money out of compensation. Every pound bodies like the National Trust pay out in damages mean a pound less for preserving our nation’s history.

Visitors to National Trust properties need to show some common sense. They need to realise that you can fall into a pond if you go near it or you could get hit by a big falling tree if it is very windy.

It gets me so annoyed when a large area of a public building is closed off by a tiny drip of water leaking through a roof. Or when a section of pavement is cordoned off by a minor crack. That’s city life in the 21st century for you.

The great thing about walking in the countryside is that no-one closes footpaths when it is raining. I love the freedom of being able to decide whether it’s safe to walk along a certain route. I like the responsibility of choosing sensible footwear when it’s icy or snowing.

But that freedom is under threat. Could bodies like the National Trust decide it’s cheaper to employ people to close off routes on their land when it starts to speck with rain; than face lawsuits? There is no suggestion that it is about to happen soon, but it’s something to be wary of.

Keep Britain’s heritage open to all. Let the great (and intelligent) British public and visitors think for themselves.

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