- Environment Secretary recognises need for making it easier for people to visit and enjoy countryside
- Cycling UK applauds position but calls for clarity and timelines
- Only 22 percent of rights of way network open to cyclists
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference 2018 today (04, Jan) the Environment Secretary said public access “can be contentious” but also outlined his ambition to make it easier for the public to “visit, understand and appreciate our countryside.”
Cycling UK sees this as an encouraging step in the right direction from Mr Gove and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). However, the charity says greater clarity on how Defra intends to improve access and timelines are needed.
Roger Geffen, Cycling UK’s Policy Director said:
“Cycling UK welcomes Michael Gove’s desire to make it simpler and easier to visit and enjoy the countryside. This will benefit the rural economy, encouraging more people to visit, stay and spend money. If they’re active while doing so, then the health benefits speak for themselves.
“Yet if you’re riding a bike or a horse, only 22 percent of England’s rights of way network is currently open to you. This prevents councils, National Park authorities and rural businesses from capitalising on our long-distance trails and other wonderful assets. Now we have a real opportunity to change this, for everyone’s benefit.”
Last year, Cycling UK’s Rides of Way report documented the problems people face in trying to create fully legal off-road cycling routes. The limited network available often has unsuitable surfaces and is badly fragmented. This often forces people cycling onto busy roads, even when more suitable routes could be opened up without causing any problems.
The Welsh Government already has plans to simplify and improve cycling access, which is strongly backed by Cycling UK’s Trails for Wales campaign. Similar plans in England could allow councils and other bodies dealing with tourism and countryside management to maximise cycling’s benefits for everyone’s health and the rural economy.
Cycling UK, together with the British Horse Society, Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers have all separately welcomed the Environment Secretary’s comments and are now writing to him jointly to offer their assistance in providing greater clarity on how opening-up the countryside can be achieved.