Our Walking World by Kate Ashbrook

As delivered to the AGT: 
The pandemic has shown the value of green spaces and paths, and has caused people to walk more than ever. So it is ironic that the government is doing so little to help walking. This year we have been celebrating anniversaries—Offa’s Dyke 50th, Cotswold Way 50th (which was actually last year), and today is the 70th anniversary of the Dartmoor National Park. Ministers then took a real interest in walking, there are photos of them testing out the Pennine Way before it was designated. Today, ministers seem not one bit interested.

The government’s flagship 25-year environment plan, launched in January 2018, pledged that it would 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’. So far we have seen little action. Despite fine words during the passage of the agriculture bill, and an assurance that public access is a public good that should be funded from agricultural subsidies, we have yet to see any plan for payments for access. This is a lost opportunity because the funding regime could provide more and better access where it is wanted and needed.

The outdoor bodies tried to get access targets in the Environment Bill but our amendments were opposed. The budget, announced last week, had merely £9 million to create 100 parks, which is a pittance as it will not buy new land and will achieve little.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is struggling, with constantly shifting staff and exiguous legal support. Consequently, it is making no progress on implementing the Deregulation Act 2015 and yet the definitive map cut-off looms, only four years away now. We have a strong case for its deferral or preferably abolition.

Things feel better in Wales where we have sympathetic ministers who are prepared to put money into access. It seems that they will ensure access can be funded under their agricultural grant scheme.

Despite the gloom, Walkers Are Welcome Towns have a vital role to play. We are a movement, we demonstrate the value of walking to local economies, the need for good public transport and good paths and access. We know that highway authorities have no money, but relatively small sums go a long way on access and we can make the case to councillors, the decision makers. So we must work together to impress on national and local government the value of what we do in bringing money to local economies, and creating walking communities.

Photo shows Kate testing her new coat from The Walking Hub, Kington.

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