This summer of sport has given us all plenty to celebrate, with a record haul of medals for Team GB at London 2012 and the recent announcement that over 100,000 people have signed up to volunteer at sports clubs and schools in a bid to keep the spirit of the Games alive. London 2012 was an unparalleled success in inspiring many more young people to take up sport and leisure activities.
Talk has now rightly turned to legacy, and the need to harness this inspiration to ensure that we can deliver the champions of the future.
Following the success of the games focus quickly turned to access to sporting facilities, with considerable attention given to the need to retain school playing fields. The Education Secretary has particularly been in line for some very negative press over the sale of playing fields and for endorsing a policy which places remaining fields under the threat of future development. Indeed, over the past four days alone almost 90 thousand people have signed a petition which asks Government to reverse this policy.
We believe that all green space needs to be protected if we are to deliver future sporting success and a country truly fit for champions. And let’s be honest! Most of us who can never aspire to an Olympic medal could do with being a bit fitter as well. Our forests and woods play a particularly crucial role in supporting a wide range of sports and leisure activities – from running, walking, cycling and much more. The public forest estate is actually the single largest provider of outdoor leisure and recreation in England and needs to be cherished and protected for future generations. Furthermore, our trees and forests also provide a wide range of health benefits for the whole population. International evidence has shown that access to trees helps tackle physical and mental ill-health, improves childhood fitness, and people living in areas with high levels of greenery are 40% less likely to be overweight or obese.
The Trust is keen to widen these clear health benefits much further beyond the 14.5% of the population who currently live within 500m of a wood. We fully endorse the recommendation within the Independent Forestry Panel’s final Report for Government to significantly increase the number of people having access to forests within close proximity of their home. This is one policy area we would like to see Government take real leadership on in its full response to the Panel Report, expected in January 2013.
The other big story dominating the headlines over the past few weeks has been the debate on what choices Government needs to take to deliver economic growth. A number of commentators have noted that the centre piece of the expected Governments reforms will be a new Economic Regeneration Bill to replace the now defunct Lords Reform bill. It is rumoured by many that a key element of the Bill will be a further relaxation of planning regulations in a bid to drive forward a range of major infrastructure projects and increase aviation capacity. Government has provided no clues to what the bill will look like but has come out to provide reassurance that the Green Belt would not be under threat from any future legislation, following concerns raised by CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England).
We believe that the barriers to economic regeneration including housing provision are not due to faults in our planning system; there are much bigger and more complex forces at work here such as a lack of public investment and low demand due to weaknesses in the availability of bank financing and mortgages. We will continue to strongly oppose any policies that place forests and woods at further risk and will be watching the development of the Economic Regeneration Bill with great interest. We will also be proactively working to keep pressure on Government to implement the recommendations of the Independent Panel Report, thus ensuring that forests and woodland can play their crucial role in supporting and developing the health and well being of all us, champions or otherwise.
Steve Mulligan, Government Affairs Officer