The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) announced on 29 June 2021 that an application for the A417 ‘Missing Link’ road scheme has been accepted for examination.
The Cotswolds National Landscape team has engaged with Highways England about its plans for a road scheme to ease traffic congestion on the A417 since it was first proposed. Although this engagement has resulted in positive changes, there are still opportunities to ensure the design of the new road meets the landscape-led vision, objectives and design principles that have been agreed by Highways England and other stakeholders. The road scheme must not only address safety and congestion issues but also bring the best outcomes for local communities and benefit the natural beauty, diverse wildlife and unique heritage of the Cotswolds National Landscape.
We are supportive of the landscape led vision of the road scheme, though we remain disappointed that the scheme still does not deliver biodiversity net gain. This means it fails to ensure wildlife habitats are in a better state than they were before the development. We will continue to work collaboratively with Highways England, key partners, and stakeholders, to unlock ways to achieve this through maximising the opportunities for biodiversity both within and outside the scheme boundary and developing landscape-scale Designated Funds initiatives to provide long-term benefit to this special landscape
We want to see a well-designed scheme delivered, and remain committed to working together with key partners, stakeholders, and Highways England. We will now examine the details of the documents submitted as part of the DCO process, to ensure that the final scheme delivers a lasting and beneficial legacy for this very special, designated landscape, and the people and wildlife who call it home.
Members of the Steppers UK group around the Cotswold Way marker stone, before they set off to complete the fourth walk of their AONB Challenge. Cherelle Harding, who organises the walks, is shown fourth from the right.
Steppers UK, a community interest company based in Coventry, continued their AONB Challenge to visit, and walk in, every Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the UK this month with a trip to the Cotswolds town of Chipping Campden.
The group, originally formed by Cherelle Harding in response to the coronavirus pandemic to encourage more Black, Asian, and ethnic minorities to get outdoors, has already completed hikes in the Malvern Hills, Shropshire Hills, and Cannock Chase as part of their AONB Challenge. The pandemic restrictions paused progress for a while, but the group chose the Cotswolds National Landscape for their fourth walking adventure.
Cherelle explained, “I founded the group in 2020 as a bit of a response to the type of year many of us were having. Everywhere was closed, but the outdoors remained open. I wanted to encourage more people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds to explore the outdoors and build positive relationships with nature.
Through organising walks and cycle rides, we aim to support the mental and physical wellbeing of group members, as well as expanding the life perspectives of those who often spend most of their lives in the city. This is essential, and we aim to do this by providing safe, fun and comfortable experiences for people to explore the wonders of the countryside, forests, rural, and coastal lands of the UK. At the moment, we’re focusing on places nearer to Coventry for the AONB Challenge, and we’re fundraising to raise travel money to help us get to the further away places like the Isle of Wight. It’s a big challenge, but we’re really loving it and I’m optimistic we can complete it!”
The group’s aims fit within an overarching movement to promote diversity in outdoor spaces and improve access for those lacking representation or opportunity, and for those with varying abilities. Research shows that for communities with cultural heritage in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia, there is often a disconnect between people of these diasporas and nature. Cherelle is among a larger community of people running groups like Steppers UK with the hope of reconnecting people to nature, encouraging them to experience the many benefits it offers, and motivating them to take care of the countryside and to adopt environmentally friendly behaviours.
The plan is working: since Steppers UK started, and in line with government guidance around coronavirus, walk participants have grown from six to around 25 people. Group members have sung their praises, describing the group as an unexpected highlight from the lockdown experience, and as having given them more confidence to explore the outdoors with like-minded people. One participant, Tayyibah Mota, has even been inspired to set up a new Instagram page of her own (@Jungleejoggers) where she shares her outdoor experiences. Since then, she says she has “connected with many other BAME people and hijabi sisters around the UK who have an interest in the outdoors”.
Rebecca Jones, Trails, Access and Volunteers Lead at Cotswolds National Landscape, said, “We’re so pleased that Cherelle and Steppers chose the Cotswolds for their latest adventure. We look forward to welcoming and working with groups like Steppers UK who are working to change issues surrounding representation and access to the outdoors. The Landscapes Review from 2019 clearly expresses that protected landscapes are for everyone, and it’s great to see people truly embracing that idea!”
The Cotswolds National Landscape was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966 in recognition of its rich, diverse and high quality landscape. www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk
The Cotswolds National Landscape is looked after by an independent organisation (officially titled Cotswolds Conservation Board) established in 2004 which has a small employee team along with 37 board members – 15 nominated by local authorities, 8 by parish councils and 14 appointed by the Secretary of State.
The Cotswolds is the third largest protected landscape in England after the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and represents 10% of the total AONB area in the UK. It covers 2,038 square kilometres (790 square miles), stretching from Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the north, through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, down to Bath and Wiltshire in the south.
The organisation’s land management position statements are for use by local authorities, government agencies, land agents, advisers, land managers, farmers and the public. They, along with the planning and transport position statements are available online at www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), along with National Parks, are considered to be the most special landscapes in the country and belong to an international family of protected areas. There are 38 AONBs in England and Wales, and a further eight in Northern Ireland. For further details, visit: www.landscapesforlife.org.uk. For details of the 15 National Parks in the UK visit: www.nationalparks.uk