Caroline Spelman MP, and her team - giving more details about how the
Comprehensive Spending Review will affect her department. I'm not
feeling very cheered about the consequences for promoting access to
the countryside, and what that means for walking.
The Department is facing reductions in resource spending of 29%, and
capital spending of 34%. And it's clear that ministers are not seeing
promotion of involvement with the natural environment as a priority
I asked the Secretary of State, and the minister, Richard Benyon MP,
specifically about access and recreation, and pointed out the link
between promotion and teaching people about the natural world, and
Richard Benyon said he "could not say" that this was a priority. While
in the medium term he wanted more people in the countryside, it was
not a focus for either DEFRA or Natural England. He confirmed the
'first wave' of coastal route stretches would go ahead, but he would
not commit beyond this. There "may be some slippage" in the timetable
of ten years for the coastal route. Caroline Spelman highlighted the
recent 'open farm Sunday' as an example of people visiting the
countryside and learning about farms.
I think ministers do see the value of countryside access and
recreation. But there's a real danger that without government weight
behind it, the improvements in opening up the countryside for people
which we've seen in the past two decades are going to stall - and
coupled with the cuts in local authority funding for rights of way,
may mean we will begin to return to the 'Forbidden Britain' world of
the 1960s. We have difficult times ahead.
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