Autumn Statement: a missed opportunity to harness the benefits of our natural spaces
By disregarding access, the Autumn Statement fails to recognise the benefits that walking in nature provides
18 November 2022
Today’s Autumn Statement marks a missed opportunity to strengthen our connection with our green spaces.
Better access to the outdoors means better health and wellbeing for all. Not only that, it makes us more connected to nature, more environmentally aware and boosts local economies.
But with government departments, including the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) being told to find savings, and with no mention of nature at all within the statement itself, the government has failed to harness the benefits that walking in our great outdoors can bring to us all.
An uncertain future for our access to nature
As part of the Autumn Statement, the government announced reforms to the planning system to “ensure all infrastructure is delivered quickly.” We understand the need to ensure critical infrastructure is delivered in a timely manner. But this should not come at the expense of our natural spaces and our connection to them. From reducing stress to boosting our physical health, spending time in our green spaces brings a myriad of benefits. And these need to be considered when delivering new infrastructure. We will continue to stress these benefits to government and make the case for our access to nature being considered in all new infrastructure developments.
The Statement also directly addressed the controversial idea of “investment zones.” Championed by former Prime Minister Liz Truss, these zones would have seen planning laws liberalised in selected locations. This caused significant concern: it was not clear how the protection of rights of way and green spaces would be treated under such zones. And most concerning of all, they could have permitted building in our national parks. The Statement, however, brought some hope that these concerns might be allayed as the zones will now be limited to areas with the potential for research and knowledge industry growth. We will keep an eye on how this might affect those areas.
That said, uncertainty still hangs over the future of our green spaces more widely. For instance, the Government missed an opportunity to address the urgent funding crisis facing our National Parks. We remain gravely concerned about the impact that reduced funding could have on their ability to maintain the path network in these places, and on people’s ability to access our most iconic landscapes.
Our National Parks are some of our most treasured spaces, allowing us all to escape, explore and enjoy all the benefits that the outdoors bring. The Government must commit to putting funding for National Park Authorities on a sustainable footing, ensuring everyone can continue to access and enjoy the outdoors.
While opportunities were missed, there were some slivers of hope to take from today’s statement. For one, an announcement that the second round of the Levelling Up Fund will allocate £1.7bn to local infrastructure projects. This is potentially welcome news for green spaces, the visitor economy and active travel.
The Government has also agreed, or is looking to agree, new mayoral devolution deals for Suffolk, Cornwall, Norfolk and the North East of England. While we will need to wait for the detail, this could present an opportunity to create local leisure walking strategies and new green walking routes in these areas., Investing in our ability to walk in nature and enjoy our iconic landscapes makes sense. Not only does it boost local economies through increased tourism, footfall and passing trade in towns and cities, it also helps to boost our physical and mental wellbeing. This reduces pressure on our health service and saves public money. We will continue to make the case for greater investment in our natural spaces, and connecting people to all the benefits that our treasured green spaces provide.
The new Prime Minister must recognise how vital access to the outdoors is to everyone’s health and wellbeing, no matter where they live or their walk of life.
The Covid-19 pandemic made us more aware than ever of the importance of being able to access nature. But is the government doing enough to improve access?