From a recent walk – photo © Julian Swainson


The Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body, has criticised the government for its record of ‘misdeeds and no deeds’ in the protection of open spaces and paths which are so important for people’s health and well-being.

The society’s general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes in the latest issue of Open Space: ‘On 28 September the Prime Minister pledged to protect an additional 400,000 hectares (1,562 square miles) of England’s countryside to support ‘the recovery of nature’. A fine promise but what does it mean?

‘The recovery of nature is immensely important, so too is the recovery of people. The pandemic has shown the value of local spaces to health and well-being, but they need stronger laws and duties to protect them.’

Kate goes on to point out that despite the PM’s airy promise of protection, the destruction of countryside continues apace—such as the £27 billion road-building plan, the HS2 railway and indiscriminate housing. The government white paper explodes the planning system which has sensibly controlled development since 1947.

‘Meanwhile, ministers threaten to criminalise trespass, and we have yet to see how far this proposed denial of freedom will go,’ she writes.

Julian Glover’s review of protected landscapes in England is left to languish, and the prospects for post-Brexit agricultural funding, which should provide public money for public access, are unsatisfactory. The government has refused to extend the year-end deadline for re-registering lost common land despite a loss of many months’ research with the closure of archives during the pandemic.

On the other hand, says Kate, ‘it feels better in Wales. The Welsh government’s Placemaking Charter involves communities in local development and in securing safe streets and spaces. Extra money has been granted for rights-of-way improvement and for protected landscapes. The Westminster government should learn from Wales. Promises are meaningless without actions.’

Also in the latest issue of Open Space:
The Open Spaces Society’s charters for local green spaces (page 2);
The urgent need to extend the deadline for re-registering commons (page 5);
The society’s criticisms of the government’s planning white paper (page 7);
Bristol’s Downs for People, with support from the society, seeks judicial review of a secret, 20-year licence for parking for Bristol Zoo on Clifton and Durdham Downs (page 8).

The Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body. It campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them.

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