THE word ‘Brexit’ was not the only notable omission from Philip Hammond’s first Budget as Chancellor. There was also no mention of rural affairs or the countryside, not even a perfunctory reference.
How dispiriting. Given that the Conservatives pride themselves on being the traditional party of the countryside, Yorkshire’s rural communities had every right to expect better from a Tory government. Without the rural economy – and the work ethic of those concerned – Britain’s stretched public finances would be even more parlous.
Yet this complacent oversight came as little surprise after Richmond MP Rishi Sunak had used a Westminster Hall debate prior to the Budget to call for the iconic Coast to Coast walk, inspired by Alf Wainwright, to be given official status as a national trail.
An oversight which means the celebrated 190-mile walk from the North Sea across three national parks to the Cumbrian coast does not feature on Ordnance Survey maps for example, it means it is ineligible for annual funding of £100,000 for footpath maintenance and the like while designated routes – all inferior in comparison – do receive such money.
“That sum could make the difference between the slow erosion of rain, wind and bracken and an iconic walk that is preserved for the next generation,” said Mr Sunak in a persuasive speech which also revealed the significant financial contribution that ramblers make to UK tourism.
How disappointing that George Eustice, the Farming Minister, ignored the respectful request by claiming – unconvincingly – that the upgrade of coastal paths is the more immediate priority.
Though this, too, is important, it’s indicative of the intransigent indifference of pipsqueak junior ministers that a £100,000 year investment in the Coast to Coast path could yield far greater financial returns, both for rural communities and HM Treasury, from increased visitor numbers.
Let’s hope Mr Eustice is persuaded to think again by Theresa May when she’s made aware of this local difficulty.
After all, the Prime Minister – a keen hiker herself – gave a copy of Wainwright’s original Coast to Coast book when she first met her German counterpart Angela Merkel to discuss Brexit. If she thinks the route is so meritorious, why doesn’t her Chancellor or Farming Minister? Answers on a postcard please.