The Ramblers' reaction to the Queen's Speech

At the State Opening of Parliament today the government has outlined its legislative programme for the next year. But as MPs and Ministers get down to business what can we expect from the new Government for walking and the walking environment?

An anticipated NHS Bill did not materialise as the Conservative government explores other ways to implement their recent pledges to improve the health service .

We will continue to make the case to Ministers to invest more in prevention and the amazing health-giving powers of walking, as well as refocus our sights on emerging and more powerful local decision-making structures.

This will be ushered in under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which allows for the devolution of powers over health and social care, as well as housing, planning and local transport, to England's cities. This could radically alter how decisions are made in relation to rights of way, parks and green spaces, and could also present new opportunities to ensure key Ramblers concerns – such as physical inactivity and access to green space - are approached in a more joined up way.

The Buses Bill, which features potentially useful provisions for walkers who wish to choose a greener transport option, should also support more joined-up planning, and Ministers must make provisions here to ensure local authorities ensure their services connect with those of another.

Another transport-related Bill, on HS2, enables work to start on the £50bn high-speed rail link. As the government seeks to resume progress on this and secure legal powers to construct and operate the first (London to Birmingham) phase we will present evidence to the Bill Committee to ensure that any adverse impact upon footpaths is minimised.

We will also be examining new legislation which affects the walking environment, including the Housing Bill and Energy Bill, both of which seek to ensure local people have more control over planning. Devolving powers of consent for large onshore wind farms to local planning authorities, and the end of subsidies to operators, has led some  to predict that the construction of any new large wind farms is now “extremely unlikely”. We note here that the same controls will not be applied to fracking , where the government will seek additional powers to permit the extraction of shale gas beneath national parks.

We will also examine the draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill which seeks to reform and modernise the Ombudsman overseeing local authorities and holding them to account on their statutory duties. Coupled with the pending government consultation on the Human Rights Act (which could lead to the removal of people’s right of objection to the extinguishment and diversion of paths), this could have a significant impact on how the Ramblers will work to protect public rights of way.

This was the only draft bill to feature in the Queen's Speech; we had hoped to see a draft Forestry Bill which finally implements the recommendations made by the Independent Panel on Forestry. These included extending public access and establishing a badly-needed management body for the Public Forest Estate. Back in 2011 the Ramblers and others saved from this from being sold off; however without legislation the future remains uncertain.

An accessible countryside and a well-maintained rights of way network is vital for rural areas, supporting tourism and helping to create a happier, healthier nation. As the government turns its attention to preparations for the budget on 8th July and looks to make significant reductions to unprotected areas of public spending (including local government) we will be making the case to politicians to continue to invest in walking and our walking environment.

Have budget cuts affected your local rights of way network? We are collating a picture of the impacts of cuts to see how it’s affecting our walking environment. Let us know at campaign@ramblers.org.uk.