New government, new opportunity for access?

5 July 2024

The UK has a new government following the 2024 General Election. Keir Starmer is the seventh Labour prime minister but what has the party previously promised on access and should walkers be excited?


The Labour Party’s history on access 

There’s no doubt that Labour has a strong record on improving people’s access to nature. The party oversaw the passage of the post-war National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which gave us protected landscapes, National Trails and the requirement for local authorities to produce definitive maps of paths; the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which, thanks to decades of campaigning by the Ramblers, introduced a groundbreaking freedom to roam across 3 million acres of mountain, moor, heath and downland in England and Wales; and the Marine and Coastal Access Act, which created the England Coast Path.

This track record of legislating to improve access would suggest some grounds for optimism.  

But what can we hope for from a 2024 Labour government?  


What has the new government promised? 

The UK government has power over environment and access policy in England. Our recent analysis highlighted two access initiatives for England that featured in the government’s manifesto: nine new National River Walks and three new National Forests; both of which appeared to be part of Labour's plans to improve responsible access to nature. But what these wider plans for access are, exactly, remains unclear.  

So is there more to come? Earlier in the election campaign, Labour announced a Countryside Protection Plan to “Increase access to nature for families to enjoy, improving mental health and leaving a legacy for generations to come”. And, last autumn, Steve Reed MP, who has been the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that a Labour government would produce a white paper on access to nature. Often a precursor to legislation, the commitment of a white paper was an important one and indicated that the party is seriously considering access reform. 


Cause for optimism? 

Taking into account all of the above, there are reasons to be hopeful that improvements for access to nature might be forthcoming.  

But we know that a new government will face many competing challenges, with different interest groups vying for attention. So, from day one we will be holding the new government to account on the promises it’s made, and reminding them of these at every given opportunity. 


It’s time for an Access to Nature Bill 

Our proposals for an Access to Nature Bill are focused on tackling some of the most significant, day-to-day barriers facing communities across England.  

Over the past year we’ve been developing these proposals and talking to parliamentarians about the importance of bringing the benefits of walking in nature to everyone. And in the run-up to the General Election itself, many of our supporters wrote to their parliamentary candidates seeking their backing for an Access to Nature Bill if elected.   

As the dust settles and the new government takes shape, we’ll be in touch with our supporters with next steps for our campaign and ways for everyone to get involved. 

The new Labour government has a real opportunity to build on its track record of legislating to improve access, and ensure everyone can reap the benefits of walking in nature.   

Together, let’s unlock the outdoors for all. 


Outdoors Unlocked

We’re calling on the new government to introduce a transformational new Access to Nature Bill. This bill will break down barriers to the outdoors so everyone in England can enjoy the benefits of walking in nature.


Campaign with us - protect the places we walk

Walking is a simple pleasure that should be open to everyone, so we campaign to remove barriers to walking and we protect the places we love to wander.