This week marks the 80th anniversary of the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in the Peak District which sparked the campaign for public access to Britain’s mountains and moorlands. The ramblers on 24 April 1932 were from the Labour and working class movements in Sheffield and Manchester, united in their wish to see our countryside opened up for all to enjoy.
The Labour movement and the Ramblers enjoy a shared history of campaigning for better access to the countryside: Attlee’s Government created the first National Parks; in 2000, we created the ‘right to roam’ as part of our landmark Countryside and Rights of Way Act; and we got cross-party support for our 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act which placed a duty on the government to create a walking route around the coast of England. The first 32 km stretch of the new coastal path in Weymouth will be open in time for the Olympics. It will be a major tourist attraction and will showcase the best of British countryside for visitors to Dorset.
Natural England has identified the next five stretches of coastal path: in Cumbria, Kent, Somerset, Norfolk and Durham. Yet, it looks like the trail stops here. Public consultations are expected soon on these areas, but no date has been set. There is a resounding silence from Government on what happens next. Natural England had its budget cut by 21.5%in the Comprehensive Spending Review leaving it with little budget to create National trails beyond the Weymouth path.
George Osborne’s “doom and gloom, costs and sacrifice” view of the environment is running strongly across Whitehall. In the 2011 Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced that the government would ‘tackle blockages for developments’ in the countryside, and that “we will make sure that gold plating of EU rules on things like Habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”
The Government’s lack of ambition to create an accessible path around England’s coast speaks volumes about its approach to nature, and its understanding of the economic, social, environmental and health benefits of opening up the countryside for people to enjoy. The Welsh Labour Government will open its All Wales Coast Path in May. The New York Times has listed the Welsh path as one of the 45 places to visit in 2012 and it will bring visitors, jobs and a boost to the rural economy in Wales. In times of austerity, tourism and leisure can bring economic benefits to rural areas facing unemployment, poor transport links and broadband connections, as well providing low-cost enjoyment for the public. 80 years on from Kinder Scout, the ramblers’ struggle continues.
Mary Creagh is the Shadow Environment Secretary.