Public access to green space must be priority for new government 

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‘Public access to good-quality green spaces must be a priority for the new government.’  So declared our chairman Phil Wadey at the society’s annual general meeting held on the day of the general election. 

Kingsmead Field in Canterbury, Kent, voluntarily registered as a town green by Canterbury City Council in 2019. Photo: Open Spaces Society

‘We stand ready with suggestions for the government to improve access to, and enjoyment of, green spaces and paths in town and country,’ Phil continued. 

‘Rather than make announcements that sound good but have little behind them, we should like the new government to hold an early consultation on how to increase public access for all.  In particular, we want to know that previous ministerial promises to provide green and blue spaces within 15 minutes’ walk of where people live can be turned into practice.   

‘As part of any review of the planning system, the new government should mandate the registration of town and village greens in every development over a certain size or density; that would help to ensure that open space is protected for all to enjoy. 

‘We also want to see it made possible to register lost commons throughout England, and not just in the ‘pioneer areas’ of Cumbria and North Yorkshire. 

‘We need a new Access Bill to extend responsible freedom of access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to woodlands, watersides, and water, bringing access close to home.  And we want to see government funding of permanent new access rights, upgrading access for all unpowered and disabled users, and improved access along existing rights of way, where it is needed, under the Environmental Land Management Schemes, and by other means. 

‘The new law should include a duty on county and unitary councils to enforce against unlawful encroachments on commons.  And local authorities should be required to provide funding for, and management of, open spaces.  These are vital for health and well-being, and their future must be secured: funding must not be driven by commercial exploitation. 

‘We propose that the complicated system of getting paths reopened should be simplified.  The new Bill should allow public paths and minor roads to be made fit for use by a simple procedure whereby a member of the public serves notice on the highway authority to require the way to be maintained and kept clear, regardless of who has the responsibility for this. 

‘And finally, for now at least, we call on the new government to undo the damage inflicted by the last but one Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs when she commenced the Path Extinguishment Day provisions on 1 January 2031, without enabling the exemptions promised which would have protected many routes from the guillotine.  A clause repealing section 53 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 would prevent her action from removing public rights from the hundreds of miles of unrecorded and under-recorded rights of way. 

‘So there we have it—the Open Spaces Society’s call to action to the new government,’ Phil concluded. 

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