04 March 2021 by Gemma Cantelo
Gemma Cantelo, Ramblers’ head of policy and advocacy, reflects on the Chancellor’s 2021 Budget statement – and whether it delivers for walking.
On 3 March 2021, the Chancellor set out plans for government spending in the annual budget statement. Few budgets in modern history have followed such turbulent times. After of 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, this was a budget intended to “begin the task of building our future economy”.
The last year has taught us much about what we need to survive and thrive, and what we want and need from the places where we live. One of the few positive developments has been the rise in the number of people discovering the joy of walking. Many walkers (38%, in fact) are walking more than they did before – and intend to do so long term. Others are discovering the benefits of walking for the first time: the joy of discovering new routes, watching the seasons change, or simply putting one foot in front of the other.
The pandemic – and lockdown – have changed our attitudes to green space. We have come to appreciate nature more and value our local green spaces more than ever. With so many of relying on our local paths and parks as places to de-stress, get moving or catch up with friends and family, that’s unsurprising. But it doesn’t come without a cost. This (brilliant) increase in use has placed an enormous strain on the walking network – resulting in many local paths becoming badly eroded or even impassable.
In February, the Ramblers wrote to government ministers to call for additional funding for urgent path repairs. But, while short-term investment would be welcome, we need a long-term plan for how we improve and “level up” access to green space.
After years of under-investment in our green spaces - and a decade of cuts to budgets for paths and parks - the pandemic has highlighted just how far we have to go. Nearly 3 million people live more than a 10-minute walk from green space, and the richest 20% of areas in England have five times the amount of green space as the most deprived 10%. The personal cost of that has been brought into stark relief by the pandemic.
The Chancellor should bear in mind that there’s a significant economic cost too: in England, £2 billion a year would be saved in health costs alone if everyone has good access to green space. In fact, our parks and green spaces deliver an estimated £34 billion a year in health and wellbeing benefits. The case for investment is sound.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our relationship with nature and the outdoors. As we begin to emerge from lockdown, we need government to seize the opportunity to reshape the places we live in and reconnect people to the natural world. That means long-term term funding to:
- Improve our green spaces, including our parks and paths, so they can meet the demand and are accessible to all
- Create new green spaces and routes that connect people to nature in towns and cities and makes it easier to access the countryside
This Budget was a chance to learn the lessons of lockdown and – finally – give our green spaces the level of ambition and investment they need. It fell short.