Government caved to wealthy landowner lobbying in U-turn on public path access

Thérèse Coffey gave landowners what they wanted, putting at risk public access to thousands of miles of historic paths

Public access to thousands of miles of historic paths in England could be lost due to a government U-turn, following successful lobbying by wealthy landowners.

An investigation by openDemocracy found Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, U-turned on a government commitment to remove restrictions on registering a claim to protect lost paths in England, after receiving a letter from landowners.

Campaigners fighting for greater access to walking land in Britain identified 41,000 miles of potential rights of way, which they hoped to apply and record on modern-day maps to protect the ‘lost paths’.

The government had previously committed to abolish a 2026 cut-off point for applying to save the paths, however in March, Thérèse Coffey changed this and re-instated a deadline for 2031.

This is despite concern from campaigners that the new date would not give them enough time for volunteers to compile the evidence needed for the applications. After the deadline, it will no long be possible to apply for a path to be added to official maps based on historical evidence.

Via a freedom of information request, openDemocracy revealed that Thérèse Coffey’s U-turn came after a request was made by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), who represent owners of rural land, property and business.

The letter expressed ‘concerns’ about the complete removal of the cut-off date due to land managers ‘uncertainty’ over what they referred to as, ‘frivolous claims of historic rights on their land holdings’.

The letter then asks the MP to consider a new deadline of 2031, shortly followed by Coffey announcing the government U-turn, which appeased the landowners request. It seems it didn’t take much to sway the minister in the interests of the wealthy, at the expense of the general public.

It is also at odds with the government’s public access target that states, ‘everyone should live within 15 minutes’ walk of a green or blue space.’

General secretary of the Open Spaces Society, a charity campaigning to protect footpaths and green spaces, Kate Ashbrook, commented: “It is outrageous that government ministers should so overtly support one faction against the interests of the wider public who want and need more and better access to our path network.”

(Photo credit: Sky News / YouTube)

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