Labour found wanting on open spaces says leading society that urges more from coalition

Britain's oldest national conservation group has used a political post-mortem on the old government to guide its demands for the new coalition.

The Open Spaces Society said investment in green areas and public paths was one of the cheapest ways of improving the nation's health.

Yet Labour had made trespass a criminal offence in some cases, said general secretary Kate Ashbrook. It gave councils sweeping powers to shut public paths and gave a 21-year go-ahead for live firing by the army on Dartmoor National Park.

"You would not expect a Labour government to make trespass a criminal offence," she said, "but it did just that in certain areas. And the Labour government removed some democracy from the planning system."

On the plus side Labour enacted the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and Marine and Coastal Access Act, to improve access, and the New Forest and South Downs National Parks, and the Commons Act.

Ashbrook said the coalition's pledge to protect wildlife and promote green spaces was a start, but more than wildlife was at stake.

"With drastic spending cuts ahead, investment in public paths and spaces offers value for money; one of the cheapest ways of securing the nation's health and happiness.

"Such a programme must surely also appeal to the libertarian instincts of both parties now in power."

However the society's recent magazine said it received only 126 replies to 1,600 letters sent to election candidates calling for tougher environmental protection.

Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 and campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people's right to use them.

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