The British Horse Society (BHS) has criticised Government plans to exclude riders and cyclists from a new national trail.
The BHS and Cycling UK have united in their condemnation of the proposals, which would effectively make the 197-mile off-road route inaccessible for horses and bikes.
The organisations have written to Defra secretary of state Ranil Jawawardena, calling on the Government to reconsider the proposals.
“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,” said BHS director of access Mark Weston.
“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.”
In August, Defra announced that £5.6m would be allocated to improve the Wainwright Coast to Coast route, before it becomes a national trail in 2025. George Eustice was Defra secretary at the time.
The route stretches from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in North York Moors National Park on a combination of footpaths and bridleways.
But the proposed upgrade would not make the whole trail accessible to riders and cyclists – there would be no continuous route that either group could use. The organisations state that this goes against the 2019 Glover Report recommendations, which advise how to make national landscapes more open to everyone.
They claim that they “should have been consulted, but were not contacted by Natural England” before the proposals were launched.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, described the move as “tunnel vision”.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
A statement from both organisations said that had they been consulted, they would have put forward plans that could have allowed a multi-user trail to be created.
“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,” the statement added.
A Defra spokesman told H&H that it and Natural England have received a letter in relation to a potential judicial review of the previous secretary of state’s decision to approve the Coast to Coast Path as a national trail, which it will respond to in due course.
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