The Labor party has promised to introduce a Scottish-style right to travel law in England if it wins the next general election, with access to green space included in the law.
The shadow environment minister, Alex Sobel, made the announcement during a debate secured by Green MP, Caroline Lucas, who is campaigning for wider access to the countryside.
Only 8% of England has rights of way, covering coastal, mountain and land paths. Some private landowners, such as national trusts and some farmers, open up their land and paths for people to walk on and that is not included in the 8% figure.
In Scotland, there is a right to walk in the countryside, without leaving a trace, with some exceptions such as not trampling on the land that grows the crops. Under a Labor government, the people of England will be given the same rights.
The right to travel campaign is gaining momentum, with thousands of people taking part in mass protests last summer to demand more access to the countryside.
Sobel said: “Labour’s approach, like Scotland, is that Labour’s right to roam will provide access to high quality green and blue space in the rest of Britain. We will replace the default of exclusion with the default of access.
“Research shows that people who have a stronger connection with nature are more likely to act positively in the environment. It’s simple: the more people interact with nature, the more likely they are to protect this.
He points out that access to nature is unevenly distributed in England, with people from minority ethnic groups and those in less affluent areas less likely to have accessible green. space nearby.
“Labour will create a future where nature thrives, people have a deeper connection with the environment, and people have equal access to the benefits of green spaces,” added the MP for Leeds North West .
Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, previously said the government would expand the right to roam but stopped short of saying a Scottish-style system would be put in place.
He said in January: “There are so many parts of England and Wales that are off-limits when it comes to rights of access, whether that’s woodland, cliffs or rivers, where the rights we’re given in the open countryside are not . then mirrored in those places. That needs to change.”
In response to Sobel, the environment minister, Trudy Harrison, did not commit to expanding the right of way, claiming that many parts of the countryside are not safe to walk on and adding that there are 4,952 miles of accessible trails in foot in England.
Lucas said he wanted “not just more footpaths, not just more trails but an immersion in wild nature. People can’t do that today because they’re faced with fences and barbed wire and ‘unlawful’ notices.
The Right to Travel campaign said: “Labour’s commitment to introduce, if elected, a new right to travel act – which would follow Scotland to replace a ‘default of exclusion with a default of access’ – very welcome.
“Scotland has had the right to responsible access to most land for the last 20 years, with reasonable exceptions and restrictions. It has been very successful and it is time the public in England were given the same opportunities to connect change nature and take care of it.