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British Canoeing response to reports of Labour’s U-turn on Right to Roam

The report cites Labour sources as saying that the party intends on reversing plans set out by former Shadow Minister for the Environment Alex Sobel MP.

During an access to nature debate in the House of Commons, the Shadow Environment Minister stated that Labour’s approach, like in Scotland, will offer access to high-quality green and blue space in the rest of Britain through a new ‘Right to Roam Bill’.

“We will replace the default of exclusion with a default of access”. 

Scotland's access rights are far more extensive to those in England and Wales. They are based upon a statutory ‘access code’ with a duty for users to behave responsibly. This approach mirrors that of many European neighbours and countries around the world. Rights apply to most land and inland water and include walking, cycling, paddlesports and other non-motorised activities. 

The Guardian report suggests that the shadow ministerial team is now rumoured to be moving away from ‘Scottish Style’ access and more toward reforming the existing Countryside & Rights of Way Act instead. 

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act covers England and Wales and gives a legal right of public access to mountains, moorland, heaths and some downland and commons, alongside the more recently created England coast path. It is estimated the current ‘right to roam’ extends to just 8% of England and applies only to those on foot.

Reacting to the story, Ben Seal, Head of Access and Environment at British Canoeing said:

“Clearly it is disappointing to read these reports that Labour are planning to row back on plans for an expansive ‘right to roam’ in England, but we still have a fair way to go on the road to a General Election and there is much to be discussed.  Ultimately, what is most important is finding the right solution that works best for our nation and tackles the inequity of access to our green and blue spaces.

“We know there are complex and sensitive issues to be resolved in relation to both use of land and waters for recreation and enjoyment.  Clearly it is vital that any future reform is able to carefully balance public enjoyment with protection of the natural world and local communities.

“It is now widely accepted that the present status quo needs to change. 

“Less than 4% of rivers in England have a public right of access. Our path network is frequently inaccessible and 19.6m people do not live within a 15-minute walk of green and blue spaces.

“We are positive about the prospect of realising our ambition of fair, shared, sustainable access to clear waters. The case for change is clear and compelling. British Canoeing and its partners will continue to do everything that is possible over the next 12 months to secure that aim”.

Over the summer, British Canoeing has been working closely with both Government Ministers and opposition parties to share its vision for fair, shared, sustainable access to clean waters. 

Meetings with the Shadow Labour team have taken place and more recently Ben Seal met with the Sports Minister, Stuart Andrew MP and Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Trudy Harrison MP, to discuss recreational access to water.