‘So often success depends on the power of people coming together.’ So writes Kate Ashbrook, the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, in Opinion (page 1) of the society’s magazine Open Space, published today (25 October).
Kate cites recent examples in which the society has been involved:
- saving Bristol’s downs from car-parking by the Downs for People’s court action;
- protecting Clapham and Tooting Bec Commons in London from commercial exploitation;
- winning access to Worthing’s hinterland in West Sussex.
She also cites historic cases, such as Bolton’s Winter Hill mass trespass, the 125th anniversary of which was celebrated in September, and the Kinder Scout trespass whose 90th anniversary falls next year.
Kate continues: ‘People power is what the government and its home secretary, Priti Patel, intend to curtail. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently in parliament, aims to outlaw peaceful protest as well as to extend criminal trespass.’
She goes on to criticise the government for its lack of interest in public access: ‘this despite the promises in its 25-year environment plan of 2018 to make sure that our natural environment “can be enjoyed, used by and cared for by everyone”, and that there should be “high-quality, accessible, natural spaces close to where people live and work”.’ Kate points out that the government appears to have abandoned its assurances, given during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, that the new environmental land management schemes (ELMS) would fund more and better access.
She continues: ‘The government’s Glover report on protected landscapes made powerful and far-sighted recommendations. These include new long-term programmes to increase the ethnic diversity of visitors, and freedom-to-roam rights—but two years on there is still no official response.’
She concludes: ‘One hundred and fifty years ago, people power saved many of London’s open spaces. We need to revive that spirit with a mass movement for public access, to protect what we have and to create new rights and freedoms, for our health and well-being in troubled times.’
Also in this issue of Open Space:
- The story of the stepping-stones over the River Mole in Surrey, on the North Downs Way national trail—replaced after war damage (page 2).
- The society’s battles against the commercialisation of commons (page 3).
- Victory in Bristol where Downs for People saved Clifton and Durdham Downs from the incubus of car parking (page 5).
- Threat to common land on Pumlumon in Ceredigion from 80-metre-high meteorological mast and paraphernalia (page 8).
- Local effort to improve the often-impassable bridleway in the Piddle Valley in Dorset (page 12).