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‘Our public parks are under unprecedented pressure, 50 years after a law which was intended to protect and improve the countryside close to people’s homes.’
So declared our vice-president, Paul Clayden, at our annual general meeting in London today (5 July).
‘This week [3 July] we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Countryside Act 1968, which empowered local authorities to create country parks, so that people could enjoy informal recreation without having to travel far. It created the Countryside Commission, the forerunner of Natural England, which could offer grants for country parks and other recreational facilities.
‘However, in these cash-strapped times, local authorities are selling or neglecting their parks—whether country or urban parks. We are finding that they use the parks for inappropriate commercial activities to the detriment of the local population.
‘Brockwell Park in Lambeth, Clapham Common, Lambeth, and Finsbury Park, Haringey are just a few London examples.
‘The Open Spaces Society has argued for a duty on local authorities to manage and care for their parks, and for the authorities to have sufficient resources for the job. Along with other bodies we have endorsed the new Charter for Parks—this rekindles the spirit of the Countryside Act 1968. The Charter recognises the right of every citizen to have access within walking distance to a good-quality public green space, and wants to see an end to inappropriate development and abuse of parks.
‘Parks are essential for our health and well-being; they enable us to get close to nature. It pays to invest in them,’ says Paul.
‘The Countryside Act also improved the position on public paths. For instance, it placed a duty on all local authorities to erect a signpost where a public path leaves a metalled road; but that duty has even now not been fully implemented. In some counties there are many missing signposts which mean the paths remain a secret and are not used—thereby denying us our rights to explore them.
‘The Act also gave cyclists the right to ride on bridleways provided they give way to walkers and riders.
‘In fact, the Countryside Act was a good step forward but, half a century on, the society still has much to do to ensure that it is fully implemented,’ says Paul.