With just a few days to go before we head to the polling stations, it is easy to feel swamped by the many pledges, promises and commitments that are being thrown at us from parties of all colours. Clearly this election is going to be dominated by Brexit, with the NHS, crime, schools, housing and inequality all jostling for airtime too. But what have the political parties committed to with regards to access and protection of our countryside? British Canoeing and the Places to Paddle team have been working hard over the last 12 months to get paddlers voices heard…so how did the Clear Access, Clear Waters campaign fair?
The Green Party released their Manifesto first and alongside many positive promises to protect the environment, the Greens have said that they would grant people a right to roam on waterways, as already enjoyed in Scotland:
“Restore access to the countryside by reopening lost public rights of way and creating new ones. We will grant to people in England and Wales the same right to roam over all landscapes as people in Scotland currently enjoy. We will protect and enhance access to inland waterways.”
The Liberal Democrat Manifesto followed just a day later and excitingly joined the Greens in pledging to explore a ‘right to roam’ on waterways:
“Significantly increase the amount of accessible green space, including protecting up to a million acres, completing the coastal path, exploring a ‘right to roam’ for waterways and creating a new designation of National Nature Parks.”
Having spent time with the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson during the summer, along with many of his colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet including Sue Hayman and Luke Pollard, we were very hopeful that Labour too would include a pledge around access on inland waterways in their manifesto. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. However at a Sport & Physical Activity hustings event on the 4th December, Tom Watson, still in his role as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, announced to the audience that although the policy never made the manifesto, Labour would be committing to a review of access on inland waterways in the first year of Government should they win the election.
This completed a hat trick of political parties, who would back the proposal for fair, shared access on all waters. But what of the Conservatives…?
Last to go, the Conservatives did not include any specific mention of waterways or access to the countryside in their Manifesto. BUT, if you squint a bit and carefully pick out one of their pledges, there is a glimmer that should there be any follow up from the Glover Review, the adequacy of access for recreation in our National Parks may be subject to scrutiny in future.
We welcome the Glover Review which will create new National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as making our most loved landscapes greener, happier, healthier and open to all. Take it as you will. Although not a direct pledge, it does at least give us a starting point for a conversation should the Conservatives be returned as our next Government.
Access to inland waterways may not be a key battleground in the 2019 election, but we have come a long way in these last few months in getting our aspiration for fair, shared access on water, heard by the major political parties. Whoever wins (if anyone), we have a very positive springboard to work from in the New Year. With the launch of the new Campaign website in early January, we MUST use these pledges made in manifesto, to hold our elected representatives to account.