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Environment minister breaks government pledge to save historic paths

The Walkers are Welcome National Executive Committee shares the deep disappointment, anger and frustration at the latest government volte face – backtracking on the promise made only last year to abandon the 1 January 2026 cut off date for most of the means of registering public rights of way left off the official list. Ironically, it comes very soon after the publication of the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan, promising that the public should be able to access green space or water, such as woodlands, wetlands, parks and rivers, within a 15-minute walk from their home. Many fear this is more empty words, ‘promised’ to sound good and buy off opposition, but without any commitment to the resources necessary to achieve it. And like the 2026 ‘promise’ to revoke’, it is open to being casually abandoned in the future because it was never a serious commitment.

We know that our many member towns and villages across England (the announcement does not apply in Wales or Scotland) commit hours of their time to making walkers welcome and this reversal will undermine that work. Already, local highways authorities, starved of resources, are tens if not hundreds of years behind in dealing with applications to recognise unrecorded rights of way and this announcement will put them under even more impossible pressure. It is of little value the government states it wants to encourage more active travel and access to the wider countryside and nature, while taking actions that operate in exactly the opposite direction.

We would urge you to support the calls for changing this destructive decision – contact your MP, lobby your Local Access Forum, add your voice to those of others such as The Ramblers, OSS, BHS, Byways & Bridleways Trust and no doubt more as the news spreads. Meanwhile, an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is being promoted in the House of Lords which calls for the cut-off to be revoked. So if there are any peers you could contact, please write to them too asking them to support the amendment.We don’t know when it will come up for debate.

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