The government, in its Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) published on 31 January, has pledged that ‘the public will benefit from a new commitment to access green space or water within a 15-minute walk from their home, such as woodlands, wetlands, parks and rivers’.
The Open Spaces Society(1), Britain’s oldest national conservation body, welcomes the words but is concerned about the lack of detail, timetable, and funding. Says Nicola Hodgson, one of the society’s case officers: ‘The words are great, and of course people need accessible green and blue spaces close to their homes, but where is the timetable and the funding?
This government has done little for public access, and seems to have reneged on its promise to provide more and better access in the Environmental Land Management Schemes. So, will this be yet another empty promise?
‘These new and existing spaces must have permanent public access, for instance by dedicating them as town or village greens. The lakes and rivers should have rights of access on them as well as beside them. Public paths must be created to connect people to these green spaces. It’s no good if people must cross busy dangerous roads to get there. All this requires a great deal of thought, commitment and investment. Will those be forthcoming?
‘Meanwhile the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill provides an opportunity to ensure that government is required by law to deliver on the promises in the EIP. We are a member of the Better Planning Coalition and are supporting amendments which have been tabled for the committee sessions of the bill in the House of Lords.
‘It was evident during lockdown that people really value and need the open spaces on their doorsteps. They are an essential part of local infrastructure. Government must take real steps to create and protect these permanent opportunities to benefit people’s health and well-being,’ says Nicola.