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The Open Spaces Society is calling on the new government to make granting public access to quality open spaces a priority.

The conservation group was founded in 1865, making it the oldest national conservation body in the country. It campaigns to protect common land, public paths, open spaces, and village greens so that people have the right to enjoy them. 

In England today, just 8 percent of appropriate land and 4 percent of rivers, have public access. Walkers are being shut out of 2,500 beauty spots where there is a right to roam but no legal right to access them. Britain ranks the lowest of 14 European nations on nature connectedness. It also ranks 11th out of 15 European nations on levels of physical activity.

The calls for the new government to improve the right to roam access were made at the Society’s annual general election meeting on July 4, the day of the general election.

Phil Wadey, chairman of the group, said that the campaigners are standing ready with suggestions for the government to “improve access to, and enjoyment of, green spaces and paths in town and country.”

The chairman referred to the former government’s promise in January 2023 that within five years, its Environmental Improvement Plan will benefit the public from a new commitment to access green space or water within a 15-minute walk from their home. He said:

“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 a 15-minute’ 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.”

The conservation body is also calling for a new Access Bill to extend responsible freedom to access woodlands, watersides, and water under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. They are also urging for government funding of permanent new access rights, and the upgrading of access for all unpowered and disabled users.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society told Left Foot Forward:

“The Open Spaces Society calls on the new government to give priority to securing safe access to good-quality green spaces close to people’s homes.  This is vital for our health and well-being and appreciation of nature.  We propose that developers are mandated to provide registered town or village greens as part of any development over a certain size or density; this would ensure that the green space was protected for ever and local people have rights of recreation there.’

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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

The post UK’s oldest conservation body urges new government to prioritise the right to roam appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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