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Public funding is being cut and our green spaces exploited to fill the gap. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, considers the threat to our open spaces and national parks.
In London, communities fight motor racing in Battersea Park, and festivals on Acton Green, Clapham Common and Finsbury Park—among countless battles.
But we have a new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has made welcome manifesto pledges to ‘strengthen protections for open spaces within the London Plan’ and to ‘open up more walking routes around London’—and many others. He should outlaw the commercial abuse of London’s open spaces for a start.
It’s not just London of course. Last year Surrey County Council decided to ‘achieve a self-funded countryside estate’ by 2021, slashing its payment to Surrey Wildlife Trust (which manages Surrey’s estate) by more than ten per cent (£100,000) a year.
Surrey wants to make money from the beautiful Newlands Corner near Albury in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The proposed commercial developments there, which include a large visitor-centre (replacing the much-loved café), coach park and trail with artificial play-structures, are causing much local concern. Some of the structures would be on common land, needing ministerial consent. This sensitive site is not one to muck around with; we shall resist.
And now the national parks, our most precious landscapes, are cashing in. The 15 UK park authorities have launched the National Parks Partnerships; its aim is to enable businesses to engage with them ‘to enhance the quality and utility of the parks now and for future generations’.
Some hopes. Businesses will want their profits from the scheme through Disneyfication and crassly inappropriate sponsorships. Furthermore, the park authorities will be competing for money from the same pot as the voluntary, campaigning, park societies, such as our members the Dartmoor Preservation Association and Friends of the Lake District, who could suffer as a result.
The English parks had a funding-reprieve, thanks to the brilliant ‘Stop the Cuts’ action led by the Campaign for National Parks. But the Welsh parks remain at serious risk. This ‘partnership’ must not give governments an excuse further to reduce cash for national parks.
Meanwhile, we can mitigate this.
Following the example of Save Penwith Moors in Cornwall, we can research and record missing common land in the ‘pioneer’ areas* of England. And we can also research and record public highways which have been omitted from the definitive maps.
Deadlines are tight—for commons 2020 or 2027, for paths 2026. Let’s act now to restore some of our losses.
*Blackburn with Darwen, Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire and North Yorkshire.