As ministers squashed proposals to expand directly to roam in England | Access to green space

Wfield activists were invited to meet with government ministers and share “big, creative ideas” for “structural and ubiquitous change” around. access to green spaces, they thought it might be too good to be true. Was the government listening, and were England’s archaic field access laws about to change?

Last summer, groups representing more than 20 million people who are active outside, including migrants, canoeists and mountaineers, were asked to speak to officials from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Treasury to explain how people are being removed from access. . green space due to enforcement laws and other barriers.

They were told that their responses would be compared and included in a groundbreaking government review of access to green space. This would be led by the then Minister Lord Agnew.

After the meeting, many groups presented carefully compared reports, hoping that as promised the Agnew commission would soon publish its review, including exciting proposals to allow people to enjoy the woodlands and waterways of England.

But this did not have to be. Ben Seal, the head of campaigns at British Canoeing, said: “After [the meeting] we heard nothing. I wrote to Lord Agnew and Stephen Barclay [the then Treasury secretary]. Nor did he answer. I bothered Defra and nothing really came back. There was a mention of meeting notes from the call in question, but nothing ever materialized. Everything has calmed down. ”

A few months later, the Treasury’s spending review appeared, with great fanfare over proposed increases to green space. But to those who attended the meeting, say what was announced, moved away from what was discussed.

Seal said: “Something like £ 9 million has been allocated to ‘pocket parks’ and football pitches. This was a shocking drop in the commission’s ambition. And then it all disappeared.”

They called increased access to nature, as there is a right to roam over only 8% of England. Ninety-two percent are privately owned. The Field and Road Act 2000 gives a legal right of public access to mountains, moors, moors, any subsoil and pasture, along with the more recently created one. England coast road.

Activists called for this to be extended to cover rivers, forests and green belt land. Ninety-seven percent of rivers are restricted to the public, and tens of thousands of acres of woodland have benefited from public funding, yet remain publicly inaccessible. It was hoped that this commission could improve access to some of these green and blue spaces.

But the commission’s sudden upbringing has led many to believe that the government is putting the desires of large landowners above the right of people to go for walks and picnics in the countryside.

Green MP Caroline Lucas twice asked the government to put the Agnew review in the Commonwealth library, and twice the government refused.

The Guardian asked the government, both through its press offices and for requests for freedom of information, to see presentations to the review – and it refused, using FoI’s exemptions to claim that it would take too much time and money to search for the presentations.

Now, those invited to that meeting last year wrote to the government asking to see the revision to which they were a part. The letter, seen by the Guardian, is signed by the British Canoeing, the British Mountain climbing Council, Swim England, and the Open Spaces Society.

Kate Ashbrook, secretary general of the Open Spaces Society, said: “The Agnew commission was a huge disappointment. but keep the detail a secret. “

Some of the organizations passed their submissions for review to the Guardian. Their calls were far more ambitious than anything yet announced by the government.

A spokesman for Ramblers said its suggestions “included setting ambitious targets to focus efforts where they are most needed, rewarding farmers for improved rural access under the new farm payment regime, and more support for greenways in towns and cities”.

Other ideas from the Hikers included new paths connecting towns and cities to local green spaces, and more legal access routes in the countryside.

Similarly, the British Mountaineering Council has called on the government to set targets for improved access to nature. Its submission reads: “We need to create a significant shift in thinking about Defra policy on goals that have so far unfortunately failed to include any consideration of access to the outdoors.”

British Canoeing has called for the right to pay and swim in England’s waterways, stressing that barriers to activities on the water mainly affect people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic minorities, the disabled and women.

Its submission said: “The lack of clarity in law around access to our waters in England and Wales represents a massive inequality in access supply, excluding millions of people from being more active on the outside, more often.”

Activists pledged to continue to press the government to publish the review and its response to submissions.

Guy Shrubsole, of the Right to Roam campaign, said: “Why the hell did ministers press this Treasury review into access to the outdoors? Do they listen more to landowners than to groups and the public?

“The government should publish the results of the Agnew review, and extend the public’s right to roam to woodlands, rivers and green belt land.”

A government spokesman said: “Access to the findings of the foreign commissions has been incorporated into the expenditure review, which provides more than £ 30 million through the government to improve public access to green spaces in support of health, welfare and the environment.

“Local green spaces will also play an important role in playing in the Nature Recovery Network, enhancing access to nature close to where people live.

“From working to complete the English Coast Road, to investing in urban green space with the £ 9 million fund to level parks, we continue to help connect people to the outdoors.”

It remains to be seen whether continued pressure – and mass misdeeds – press the government to release or act on the review. Or whether, as a a minister recently saidthe countryside will remain above all a “commercial place”.

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