December 20, 2010
A statement of intent.
The current access situation is stupid. The current system of bridleways and footpaths is outdated – which is hardly surprising as it was developed and chosen in the post war period by parish councillors with vested interests.
Here at Singletrack we think that there should be no distinction between any non motorised form of transport, be it horse, walker or cyclist. We want to see Scottish style access across the rest of Britain. This doesn’t mean we want expensive changes to be made to enable easier access to what would previously have been called footpaths – we simply want access to these to be legal. There are miles of ‘footpath’ across moors where there are no stiles to impede riders or horses. Where stiles exist then riders can simply lift their bikes over. We don’t want costly changes to be made to ‘facilitate’ access. We can manage just fine at the moment, as most riders who have ever been tempted onto cheeky trails will attest.
Enlightened countries such as Sweden and Scotland simply have access to land – we have a piecemeal system where outdated decisions on land use still limit us to where we can ride. We must decide what future we want for ourselves and fight to achieve it.
There are many people that share the opinion that the Rights of Way network should be opened up and that the default status for every path should be access for all with local exceptions made for trails unsuitable due to ground conditions, rare habitats/species or volume of traffic. We understand we’re preaching to the converted but we’re also fully aware also that the outcome we want is unlikely to happen in the short term.
In a country struggling out of a recession and hampered by cutbacks to infrastructure and the bureaucracy that oversees it, we don’t expect these changes in legislation to be made – however much we believe in the rightness of them. Laws are too costly to be changed and, as many people we have spoken to have said, there is not enough political will to produce Scottish style access across Britain.
This doesn’t mean we are helpless. The coalition government has started to put an emphasis on it’s ‘Big Society’ approach. The cynical might say this is a way of stepping back from their responsibilities, cutting money and support to quasi-governmental organisations that were previously fighting for access and in their place leaving a void they hope will be filled by private individuals. Regardless of how people may feel about that, the fact that Coalition government is inviting greater participation from the general public could be a great opportunity for mountain bikers to resolve access issues on a local level. This might be the best opportunity we’ve got to get things moving.
Natural England is the body that, amongst other things, has a responsibility to “promote access, recreation and public well-being for the benefit of today’s and future generations”. It’s their duty to look after rights of way and access issues. Sadly, the government cuts have meant they’ve had to take a 5% drop in funding this year alone which translates into a 30% drop in staff. Back in July a Department for Rural Affairs spokesman told the BBC that:
“It will be up to each individual organisation to revise their plans to reflect this reduced funding, but we expect them to protect front-line services as much as they can by first looking for efficiency savings or reducing back office costs.”
So how do they plan to make ‘efficiency savings’? Well, along with the ominous sounding ‘reducing back office costs’, we’ve seen a document that outlines their plans to transfer some of their access related work to the civil organisations and local communities. While they still have to fulfil their statutory duties under current legislation they are starting to explore ways in which interested parties in the community can help.
This means that anyone interested will be able to heavily influence their local access issues. The worst case scenario is that an access land grab will follow – and better organised groups of users will be able to exert their influence more effectively and get the outcomes they desire. Of all the outdoors users, mountain bikers are without doubt the worst organised and if this continues we are bound to come out this situation poorly.
So now is our opportunity to get involved, it’s time to represent mountain biking via local access forums and start to campaign for what we want.
So how do we move forward on this?
The CTC has real political lobbying clout and is the organisation that is in a position to take the lead and push this issue forwards. They have experience in campaigning and they have seasoned campaigners just waiting to support local groups who want to get involved. We’ll be hearing from them soon and we’ll be following up this with interviews with local campaigners, access groups and anyone else that wants their say.
We want to hear your suggestions and ideas, what problems you’ve run into and the positive solutions you’ve found to make things happen on a local level. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We need you to get involved.