Government’s “tunnel vision” excluding cycling and horse riding from new national trail challenged
Cycling UK and The British Horse Society (BHS) have written a letter before action to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Rt Hon Ranil Jawawardena MP calling on the government to reconsider proposals that would effectively prevent people cycling or horse-riding along the length of England’s next National Trail, the Wainwright Coast to Coast.
Defra announced on 12 August 2022 that £5.6 million would be allocated to improve the 197-mile Wainwright Coast to Coast route, ahead of it becoming a National Trail in 2025.
The popular trail, stretching from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in North York Moors National Park, currently uses a combination of footpaths which horse riders and cyclists cannot use, and bridleways, which they can.
The proposed upgrade to a National Trail effectively excludes those choosing to ride horses or bikes, as there is no continuous route they can use. This is contrary to recommendations made in the Glover Report 2019 which was used to inform the Government’s Landscapes review, advising how to make national landscapes more open to everyone.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said:
“The Wainwright path is a fantastic attraction for the north of England, and it’s great news the Government wants it to be a National Trail.
“There’s so much to celebrate about the new trail’s aims to increase opportunities for people to experience the outdoors, but what is frustrating is the tunnel vision automatically excluding specific groups like people cycling or horse riding, that is also contrary to government policy on outdoor access.
“If you ride a bike or a horse, you can use only 22% of England’s rights of way network or ride two out of 16 of our National Trails. We need to do more to increase access, not limit it. The benefits are real for rural hospitality businesses, which will see increased trade from a more diverse group of visitors.”
When upgrading rights of way like bridleways, Natural England and Defra are legally obliged to consult with statutory consultees representing their different user groups. Cycling UK and The British Horse Society should have been consulted, but were not contacted by Natural England ahead of the launch of their proposals for the Wainwright Coast to Coast path.
Had the two organisations been consulted, they would have put plans in place which could have allowed the creation of a multi-user trail. The British Horse Society and Cycling UK are now hoping Defra and Natural England will take the opportunity to consult and work towards the goal of creating a multi-user trail, avoiding further legal action.
Mark Weston, Director of Access at The British Horse Society said:
“As vulnerable road users, horse riders face considerable dangers on our roads and the need for safer off-road riding opportunities has never been greater. For very little extra investment and a small proportion of time spent consulting with us and Cycling UK, we could make a real difference to horse riders and cyclists who want to continue to be safe, as well as enjoy the countryside.
Supporting this route to be multi-use could also make a valuable contribution to the north’s rural economy, helping to achieve the government’s stated objective of levelling up. It’s still not too late and we hope Defra will take the opportunity to discuss the benefits of this approach with us.”