Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Open Spaces Society (WTC 53)



  1.  The Open Spaces Society, formally the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, is Britain's oldest national conservation body, founded in 1865. The society campaigns to create and conserve common land, town and village greens, open spaces and public paths, in town and country, throughout England and Wales. We are as concerned with urban as with rural areas.

  2.  The society welcomes this inquiry into walking in towns and cities, which we feel is a neglected issue. We shall here set out some points in outline, but we should welcome an invitation to appear before the committee to give some detail on these points.

  3.  Our key point is that planning and transport policies in towns and cities should be inclusive of walking, and that walking should be seen as a positive element, to be encouraged, in every plan and strategy and in all planning applications of any significance.

The contribution of walking to the Urban Renaissance, healthy living and reduced dependency on cars

  4.  The ability to walk, undisturbed and peacefully in attractive urban surroundings is a crucial element of the Urban Renaissance. At present walking is made unpleasant by such factors as the dominance of vehicles and facilities for the car, and the difficulty of crossing roads on foot without a long detour. This means that people will choose to use a car rather than walk a short distance, even though walking is often quicker and always cheaper.

  5.  Urban footways and parks, which are away from the noise, smell and danger of traffic, are a pleasure to use and their existence will encourage people to walk to work, the shops, school etc, as well as for recreational reasons. This will contribute to people's health and well being.

The reasons for the decline in walking and the main obstacles to encouraging walking and increasing the number of journeys made by foot

  6.  While walking remains the most popular, outdoor, active recreation in the countrywide, urban walking is declining because of the dominance of the car and the difficulties of crossing roads, mentioned above. Furthermore, new developments tend not to take account of the needs of walkers. These needs should be taken into account at the first stages of planning a development. Every transport strategy should include walking as a fundamental element.

What should be done to promote walking, including the creation of the city squares, the role of pedestrianisation, Home Zones, additional measures to restrain traffic, the harmonisation of walking public transport and improved safety and security for pedestrians

  7.  As stated above, the needs of walkers should be a fundamental element of any new development and transport strategy. Urban footpaths should be provided which are wide, well lit and inviting. City squares and parks are also important for people. Public transport should be provided which assists walkers. All local authorities should produce a walking strategy on which they consult groups representing walkers as well as the public, and these strategies must then be properly funded and implemented.

Footways and crossings

  8.  Wide footways should be alongside roads, and good crossings provided which are suitable for elderly people, those with young children and disabled people, ie not involving long detours or unpleasant underpasses. People should be able to cross roads at grade, on pedestrian crossings which allow ample time for pedestrians, and where vehicles which try to "jump" the crossing are caught by speed cameras.

Definitive maps

  9.  A major problem facing walkers is that many urban areas do not have a definitive map of public rights of way, either because they were exempted in the legislation or because the councils have not yet got round to it. Thus it is very difficult for members of the public to find out where public paths are, and thus to defend them from being built over or otherwise destroyed or neglected. Now only inner London boroughs are exempt from producing a definitive map. That exemption should be reversed by legislation as soon as possible. Other urban areas should be pressed by government to produce definitive maps without delay.


  10.  Local authorities should cease to misuse section 116 of the Highways Act 1980 to close and divert paths in the magistrates' court. This procedure is offputting to the public and should only be used for the closure and diversion of roads, not of footpaths and bridleways.


  11.  There are advantages in the use of section 247 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, whereby path closures and diversions in association with planning permission are processed by the government office, because it enables objectors to negotiate direct with the applicants, via the government office. This provision can be used imaginatively and we have many examples of such use, especially in the Manchester area. We can also recommend improvements to this system.


  12.  The myth needs to be dispelled that paths are a cause of crime. In fact, paths help to deter crime because bona fide walkers are eyes and ears. But paths need to be well lit and friendly.

  13.  The Department of Transport's consultation document, Review of Road Traffic Regulation Law, August 1996, said: "[The government] is of the opinion that it is neither desirable nor appropriate for crime prevention to become a reason in itself for the permanent closure of rights of way. This would allow the actions of a criminal minority to deny the law-abiding majority its legitimate and necessary right of passage."

  14.  We were therefore concerned when provisions to make it easier to close or divert paths on grounds of crime were included in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, although these provisions were improved (from our point of view) during the bill's passage through parliament. We submit that the government must draw up tight criteria for designating areas as crime prevention areas under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 so that as few areas are designated as possible.


  15.  Clause 98 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 amends the definition of town and village green in the Commons Registration Act 1965 to make it easier for communities to register land as a "new" green. We welcome this amendment to the law, because registration of such land secures it for public enjoyment, by right, for "lawful sports and pastimes" and protects the land from development.

  16.  We intend to play an important role in informing individuals, community groups and councils of the change in the law, and to encourage the registration authorities to deal with applications swiftly and efficiently. The provisions are particularly important in urban areas where open spaces are threatened with development.


  17.  We deplored the change in the law, in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, whereby local authorities no longer had to provide suitable exchange land when open space was taken for development. We wish to see the law reversed so that this provision is reinstated.

  18.  We are also concerned about the lack of protection given to open spaces in local plans, and the failure of the Secretary of State to uphold PPG17 in directing local authorities to dispose of land which they consider not to be in use. We can provide examples.

What can be learnt from good practice both in England and elsewhere

  19.  We do not have much information on this, but we are aware that the City of Oxford has a pedestrian scheme with extensive park and ride facilities. We suggest the committee studies this as a model.

Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate skills and training

  20.  We do not have much knowledge of this.

Whether all government departments, their agencies, including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport Plans, PPOG 13 and the government paper Encouraging Walking, are adequate

  21.  We are concerned that the government has recently announced a u-turn on road-building policy, which will have an adverse effect on public transport and on walking.

  22.  We also consider that the government paper, Encouraging Walking, was inadequate. We suspect the government itself was embarrassed about this because the launch was so low key as to be ignored.

In particular, whether greater priority should be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share of the government budget and the reallocation of road space

  23.  We strongly believe that greater priority should be given to all these measures.

Whether national targets should be set and a national strategy published

  24.  We strongly support the introduction of targets and a national strategy, as well as strategies produced by each local authority.

Kate Ashbrook
General Secretary

January 2001

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