Grahame Morris writes: “Tomorrow will mark the 82nd anniversary of the Kinder Scout trespass. Over eighty years ago working class people defied the police and landowners with a mass trespass in the Peak District in order to assert their right to roam.
The protest led to five demonstrators being arrested and imprisoned. However, it also began the process that would see the creation of Britain’s national parks by the post-war Labour Government, and a later Labour Government would pass the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, implementing what is known as the right to roam, securing walkers’ rights over open country and common land.
However, even with these new rights the vast majority of the land in Britain is owned a small group of landowners. The Kevin Cahill book, Who Owns Britain, published shortly after the right to roam legislation, found that about 6000 landowners own 40 million of Britain’s 60 million acres of land, and that 70% of land is owned by 1% of the population. In comparison, 60 million people live in houses collectively occupying 4.4 million acres.
Much of this land was lost during the 18th and 19th Centuries when thousands of individual enclosure acts transferred land out of common ownership into the ownership of farmers and landowners. This pushed many of the poorest agricultural workers and their families off common land on which they were allowed to keep livestock.
The enclosure acts were nothing more than legalised theft by the rich and powerful in society, and working people have been fighting ever since to gain access to their land.
I have been supporting the England Coast Path campaign which has called for the creation of a continuous walking trail around the entire coast of England with wider access to beaches and open land. The previous Labour Government legislated for the path in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, however, progress has been slow. The England Coast path was originally marked for completion by 2019, but while the Coalition Government have dithered with its development, the Welsh Government completed a path stretching the length of the country’s entire coastline, which in its first year generated £16m for the Welsh economy.
We have a right to access and enjoy our natural heritage, and I was delighted to join the Ramblers and Natural England last week to mark the opening of the North East stretch of the coastal path, which encompasses the award winning East Durham Heritage Coast.
The East Durham coastline has been transformed from its industrial past, and with the help of the County Durham Heritage Partnership, we now enjoy an award winning heritage coast which is one of the finest in England. East Durham is one of the very few areas in England to get its portion of Coastal Path which will help boost tourism and improve access to our treasured coastline.
I am relieved we have been able to complete our coast path, however, I will continue to campaign for our right to roam and for the East Durham coastline to be connected to the rest of the English coastline.” (http://www.leftfutures.org/2014/04/the-right-to-roam/)