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‘The government should invest in public paths and green spaces to achieve its aim of improving the rural economy,’ says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook commenting on the government’s Rural Statement published today (12 September). ‘By underplaying the role of these vital assets government misses a massive trick.’
‘There is a brief mention in the Rural Statement of “encouraging local authorities to promote cycling and walking by working with community groups and others to invest in off-road networks and rights of way”,’ Kate continues. ‘These are fine words but local authorities are cutting their rights-of-way budgets and can only invest in paths if they are funded to do so. Public paths and public access land bring millions of pounds into the rural economy, but local authorities are spending less and less on them.
‘It seems hypocritical that government is set to hand over the maintenance of national trails to cash-strapped local authorities and volunteers—the trails are the arteries of the path network which provides lifeblood for rural communities. And bizarrely there is no mention of horse-riding—yet riders too spend millions of pounds a year in the countryside.
‘Government fails to mention the role of the country’s 400,000 hectares of ancient common land, which provide recreation and refreshment for the public and are rich havens for wildlife: they contribute to the beauty and variety of the landscapes which local people cherish and others come to visit for their beauty and wilderness.
‘And it is misleading to claim that under neighbourhood planning communities will be able to ‘decide which green spaces should be protected,’ it’s not as simple as that. We still await the detail of how the government’s proposed Local Green Space Designation will work.
‘So it’s time that government recognised the vital role of paths and access land, commons and green spaces, in boosting the rural economy,’ says Kate.