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‘Sir Robert Hunter would have been horrified by the government’s assault on our green spaces.’
So said Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary, on the centenary of Robert Hunter’s death on 6 November. Robert Hunter was solicitor to the Commons Preservation Society, as the Open Spaces Society was first known, some years before he went on to found the National Trust in 1895.
‘Robert Hunter is one of the unsung heroes of the open-spaces movement,’ Kate continued. ‘A quiet, hard-working lawyer, he cared deeply for commons and open spaces and was fascinated by their unique laws. He was the country’s leading expert on the law of commons. It is because of Hunter that we can today enjoy Wimbledon Common, Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath, Ashdown Forest and many other extensive open spaces.
Hunter left the Commons Preservation Society in 1882 to become solicitor to the General Post Office. He moved to Haslemere in Surrey and continued to champion open spaces, chairing a committee which raised the money to buy nearby Hindhead Common and the Devil’s Punch Bowl and give them to the National Trust. The National Trust was in fact Hunter’s idea.
Kate continued: ‘Hunter would have been dismayed by the government’s attack on our green spaces and the laws which protect them.
‘Last April, the government banned local people from registering their cherished open spaces as village greens if that land is threatened with development.
‘The loosening of planning policies will mean that more open spaces are developed.
‘Government proposes to justify development by promoting so-called “biodiversity offsetting” which is no substitute.
‘It proposes new public spaces protection orders which could allow local authorities to exclude the public from open spaces.
‘It intends to restrict the use of legal challenge by voluntary organisations.
‘The Royal Parks want to charge people for enjoying informal recreation in the London parks.
‘Many of these retrograde changes are to support developers and profit-making at the expense of our freedom to enjoy open spaces.
‘Robert Hunter would have fought these threats as he fought those of his day, with deliberation and wisdom. The Open Spaces Society continues to champion his cause. More than ever, we need Robert Hunter here today,’ Kate concluded.