Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Open Spaces Society

Any key elements in the White Paper which are supported

1. The recognition of links between environment and economy, and environment and public health.

2. The commitment to improve urban green infrastructure (2.78–81).

3. The plan for urban Quiet Areas (4.31).

4. The commitment to implement the recommendations of the Natural England working group on unrecorded rights of way, making it easier to claim public paths for the definitive map, and thus secure their protection (4.34).

Any particular sections which could be improved

5. Lack of clarity on how the proposed new designations (Local Nature Partnerships and Nature Improvement Areas) fit into planning system.

6. Lack of focus with Local Nature Partnerships and Nature Improvement Areas on the opportunities for public access and enjoyment.

7. The commitment to “place a clearer and more integrated framework to support farmers to achieve multiple benefits from their land” (2.46) seems meaningless when Defra has removed funding for annual permissive access payments from Higher Level Stewardship.

8. Lack of information on proposed green space designation, which has been trailed for over a year with minimal information.

9. Clarify reference in 4.34 to “streamlining the processes for ... making changes to public rights of way”. The Natural England working group dealt only with claiming paths (and being able to move claimed paths), not on making it easier to alter other routes. It is acceptable if the reference is merely to claimed paths, but if government tries to extend this to making it easier to alter other routes, the hard-won consensus of the working group will fall apart. Public highways belong to everyone, and should only be altered after due process has been completed.

Any omissions from the White Paper which Defra should rectify

10. Astonishingly, there is no mention of common land which uniquely provides a wealth of public benefits, for wildlife, landscape, history, archaeology and public enjoyment. Defra must pledge to “roll out” nationally part 1 of the Commons Act 2006, which provides for updating of the commons registers. At present part 1 has only been applied to seven commons registration authorities. Defra should also make a commitment to protect commons for their many benefits.

11. There is no mention of completion of the coastal trail and access land, as set out in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

12. The White Paper ignores the importance of public access, by rights of way and access land. It must state what government will do to protect existing access and to provide more.


The Open Spaces Society is Britain’s oldest national conservation body, founded in 1865. We campaign to create and conserve common land, town and village greens, open spaces, public paths and rights of public access, in town and country throughout England and Wales.

20 June 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012