Countryside: Access

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 1 June 2023.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what progress her Department has made on increasing access to nature through (a) improved maintenance of footpaths, (b) increasing the network of footpaths and (c) expansions of the freedom to roam.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

England already has a fantastic network of paths with some 120,000 miles of linear access through England’s countryside, but we are taking steps to improve this further.

For example, the Bridlington to Filey stretch of the King Charles III England Coast Path was recently opened, connecting thousands of people to the Yorkshire coast. Over 850 miles of the path are now open to the public and, when complete, it will be the longest waymarked and maintained coastal walking route in the world at 2,700 miles.

We are also designating Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route across the north of England as a new National Trail, crossing some of our most precious national landscapes making it accessible to cyclists and horse riders where it is feasible to do so.

We are delivering the £14.5 million ‘Access for All’ programme, which consists of a package of targeted measures in our protected landscapes, national trails, forests and the wider countryside to make access to green and blue spaces more inclusive. More than £3.5 million has already been spent on making our protected landscapes more accessible, including on creating and improving footpaths to ensure that the countryside is accessible to everyone.

We are also improving the way in which rights of way are recorded by implementing a package of reforms to reduce bureaucracy and speed up the process for new rights of way to be added to the legal record for everyone to enjoy. Local highway authorities are responsible for the management and maintenance of existing public rights of way and are required to keep a Rights of Way Improvement Plan to plan improvements to the rights of way network in their area. This must include an assessment of the local rights of way including the condition of the network.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides for a right to roam across open access land, giving the public a right of access to most areas of mountain, moor, heath, down, registered common land and coastal margin. This means that the public already has the ‘right to roam’ over many areas of wild, open countryside. We have no plans to change this.

We set out our commitment to the provision of safe and appropriate public access in as many woodlands as possible in the England Trees Action Plan. The Environmental Improvement Plan reiterates our commitment to publish our ambition for improving the quantity, quality, and permanency of woodland access.

Through programmes with the Community Forests and Forestry England we are enabling creation of large scale publicly accessible woodlands near towns and cities. For instance, as part of our ‘Access for All’ programme we are providing over £3 million to Forestry England to increase access to green and blue spaces in our most deprived urban areas.

We continue to support land managers to provide woodland access through our Countryside Stewardship and England Woodland Creation Offer schemes.

Under the new Environmental Land Management offer, for woodlands, we are providing societal benefits by bringing people closer to nature, allowing long-term permissive access for recreation and contributing to the rural economy.

The Department for Transport is investing in active travel. This includes delivering thousands of miles of safe, continuous routes for cycling and creating Active Travel England to support local authorities to deliver ambitious and transformational schemes. The Transport Secretary appointed Chris Boardman as National Active Travel Commissioner in June 2022.

This Government has done more than any other when it comes to walking and cycling. Around 250 more miles of walking and cycling routes have been opened since 2020 and we remain fully committed to the ambitious vision that by 2030 half of all journeys in towns and cities are walked or cycled. This is in addition to the objectives outlined in the second Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS2).

This Government absolutely understands the importance of active travel. That is why we are investing more than any other government, over £3 billion, into this area. This includes at least £100 million capital funding over the two-year period 2023/24 to 2024/25 for active travel infrastructure, following on from £850 million investment in the three years up to 2022/23.

We also committed in our 2020 Gear Change plan commits to improve the National Cycle Network (NCN), recognising the vital importance of the NCN in enabling everyone to walk, wheel and cycle safely and easily. Last year Sustrans was awarded £25 million to support and expand the NCN.

Active Travel England will work to ensure that this wider funding supports delivery of the objectives in CWIS2 including the need for projects to conform with national design guidance. Active travel remains at the heart of this Government’s agenda and the Department will continue to ensure that it is given the priority it deserves.

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