Memorandum by the Open Spaces Society
WALKING IN TOWNS AND CITIES
1. The Open Spaces Society, formally the
Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, is Britain's
oldest national conservation body, founded in 1865. The society
campaigns to create and conserve common land, town and village
greens, open spaces and public paths, in town and country, throughout
England and Wales. We are as concerned with urban as with rural
2. The society welcomes this inquiry into
walking in towns and cities, which we feel is a neglected issue.
We shall here set out some points in outline, but we should welcome
an invitation to appear before the committee to give some detail
on these points.
3. Our key point is that planning and transport
policies in towns and cities should be inclusive of walking, and
that walking should be seen as a positive element, to be encouraged,
in every plan and strategy and in all planning applications of
The contribution of walking to the Urban Renaissance,
healthy living and reduced dependency on cars
4. The ability to walk, undisturbed and
peacefully in attractive urban surroundings is a crucial element
of the Urban Renaissance. At present walking is made unpleasant
by such factors as the dominance of vehicles and facilities for
the car, and the difficulty of crossing roads on foot without
a long detour. This means that people will choose to use a car
rather than walk a short distance, even though walking is often
quicker and always cheaper.
5. Urban footways and parks, which are away
from the noise, smell and danger of traffic, are a pleasure to
use and their existence will encourage people to walk to work,
the shops, school etc, as well as for recreational reasons. This
will contribute to people's health and well being.
The reasons for the decline in walking and the
main obstacles to encouraging walking and increasing the number
of journeys made by foot
6. While walking remains the most popular,
outdoor, active recreation in the countrywide, urban walking is
declining because of the dominance of the car and the difficulties
of crossing roads, mentioned above. Furthermore, new developments
tend not to take account of the needs of walkers. These needs
should be taken into account at the first stages of planning a
development. Every transport strategy should include walking as
a fundamental element.
What should be done to promote walking, including
the creation of the city squares, the role of pedestrianisation,
Home Zones, additional measures to restrain traffic, the harmonisation
of walking public transport and improved safety and security for
7. As stated above, the needs of walkers
should be a fundamental element of any new development and transport
strategy. Urban footpaths should be provided which are wide, well
lit and inviting. City squares and parks are also important for
people. Public transport should be provided which assists walkers.
All local authorities should produce a walking strategy on which
they consult groups representing walkers as well as the public,
and these strategies must then be properly funded and implemented.
Footways and crossings
8. Wide footways should be alongside roads,
and good crossings provided which are suitable for elderly people,
those with young children and disabled people, ie not involving
long detours or unpleasant underpasses. People should be able
to cross roads at grade, on pedestrian crossings which allow ample
time for pedestrians, and where vehicles which try to "jump"
the crossing are caught by speed cameras.
9. A major problem facing walkers is that
many urban areas do not have a definitive map of public rights
of way, either because they were exempted in the legislation or
because the councils have not yet got round to it. Thus it is
very difficult for members of the public to find out where public
paths are, and thus to defend them from being built over or otherwise
destroyed or neglected. Now only inner London boroughs are exempt
from producing a definitive map. That exemption should be reversed
by legislation as soon as possible. Other urban areas should be
pressed by government to produce definitive maps without delay.
1980, SECTION 116
10. Local authorities should cease to misuse
section 116 of the Highways Act 1980 to close and divert paths
in the magistrates' court. This procedure is offputting to the
public and should only be used for the closure and diversion of
roads, not of footpaths and bridleways.
ACT 1990, SECTION
11. There are advantages in the use of section
247 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, whereby path closures
and diversions in association with planning permission are processed
by the government office, because it enables objectors to negotiate
direct with the applicants, via the government office. This provision
can be used imaginatively and we have many examples of such use,
especially in the Manchester area. We can also recommend improvements
to this system.
12. The myth needs to be dispelled that
paths are a cause of crime. In fact, paths help to deter crime
because bona fide walkers are eyes and ears. But paths need to
be well lit and friendly.
13. The Department of Transport's consultation
document, Review of Road Traffic Regulation Law, August 1996,
said: "[The government] is of the opinion that it is neither
desirable nor appropriate for crime prevention to become a reason
in itself for the permanent closure of rights of way. This would
allow the actions of a criminal minority to deny the law-abiding
majority its legitimate and necessary right of passage."
14. We were therefore concerned when provisions
to make it easier to close or divert paths on grounds of crime
were included in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, although
these provisions were improved (from our point of view) during
the bill's passage through parliament. We submit that the government
must draw up tight criteria for designating areas as crime prevention
areas under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 so that
as few areas are designated as possible.
15. Clause 98 of the Countryside and Rights
of Way Act 2000 amends the definition of town and village green
in the Commons Registration Act 1965 to make it easier for communities
to register land as a "new" green. We welcome this amendment
to the law, because registration of such land secures it for public
enjoyment, by right, for "lawful sports and pastimes"
and protects the land from development.
16. We intend to play an important role
in informing individuals, community groups and councils of the
change in the law, and to encourage the registration authorities
to deal with applications swiftly and efficiently. The provisions
are particularly important in urban areas where open spaces are
threatened with development.
17. We deplored the change in the law, in
the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, whereby local
authorities no longer had to provide suitable exchange land when
open space was taken for development. We wish to see the law reversed
so that this provision is reinstated.
18. We are also concerned about the lack
of protection given to open spaces in local plans, and the failure
of the Secretary of State to uphold PPG17 in directing local authorities
to dispose of land which they consider not to be in use. We can
What can be learnt from good practice both in
England and elsewhere
19. We do not have much information on this,
but we are aware that the City of Oxford has a pedestrian scheme
with extensive park and ride facilities. We suggest the committee
studies this as a model.
Whether the relevant professionals have the appropriate
skills and training
20. We do not have much knowledge of this.
Whether all government departments, their agencies,
including the Highways Agency, and local authorities are taking
appropriate measures, and in particular whether Local Transport
Plans, PPOG 13 and the government paper Encouraging Walking, are
21. We are concerned that the government
has recently announced a u-turn on road-building policy, which
will have an adverse effect on public transport and on walking.
22. We also consider that the government
paper, Encouraging Walking, was inadequate. We suspect the government
itself was embarrassed about this because the launch was so low
key as to be ignored.
In particular, whether greater priority should
be given to measures to promote walking, including a greater share
of the government budget and the reallocation of road space
23. We strongly believe that greater priority
should be given to all these measures.
Whether national targets should be set and a national
24. We strongly support the introduction
of targets and a national strategy, as well as strategies produced
by each local authority.