SPECIAL REPORT Cotswold Way: are we putting our best foot forward?
By Simon Hacker | 20th September 2023
A new report by the Ramblers has crunched the value of the UK's footpath network and thrown its economic importance into sharper relief.
And it lands at a moment when a landlord in Gloucestershire warns Punchline-Gloucester.com that walking remains an under-exploited element of the county's tourism.
Commissioned by the group that has campaigned for walkers since 1935, the report from the New Economics Foundation suggests Britain's existing walking network has a £2bn economic value.
But given its ability to add 3,000 healthy years to the life of the nation, routes that include the Cotswolds Way represents an under-exploited tool for UK health and wellbeing.
And with our life expectancy growing at a slower rate than the rest of the G7, the report highlights that access to walking routes is far from equal.
The report found:
● Residents of the wealthiest areas in England and Wales have 80% more paths in their local area than the residents of the most deprived areas.
● The most white-dominated areas have 144% more local paths than the most ethnically diverse.
● Where health is the worst, the number of paths is the lowest.
A spokesman fo the Ramblers said: "The path network adds over 3,000 healthy years of life to the nation, worth an estimated £2 billion - more than £33 for every person in England and Wales. That's the cost of 8.5 million ambulance call outs or 10 million outpatient procedures.
"But our access to paths is not equal. There is significant imbalance between the number of paths available to the most and least deprived communities. And the health and wellbeing impact of this inequality is stark."
In January, the BBC reported that a formal complaint had been lodged against Gloucestershire County Council amid a claim that people can "die waiting" for the registration of footpaths.
Councillor Dr David Willingham told the BBC it "looks like someone is asleep at the wheel", with delays to some of the cases being so bad that in four cases the applicant has since died.
As of March 31st 2022, there were 168 undetermined definitive map modification orders and three outstanding town and village green applications for the county.
Cllr Willingham said: "In 2011, we had 3,500 miles of public rights of way. We are predominantly a rural county."
Ken Dickens, has run the The Star Inn at Whiteshill for 13 years. The picturesque Grade 2-listed pub is perched above Stroud and one of the most elevated stops for walkers on the Cotswold Way, but Mr Dickens says that a more concerted drive towards encouraging tourists on foot would be appreciated by all pubs, hotels and B&Bs along the famous route.
He said: "We've been here for 13 years and we are currently engaged in upgrading and taking the provision for three rooms up to six, including efficiency options and new electric car charging points, all of which is due to be finished this autumn.
"We find that, in all honesty, accommodation bookings that come out of the Cotswold Way probably do not make up more than 5% of our business, but it would be brilliant if we were more on the map in terms of awareness, given such a beautiful location, so close to the walkway itself.
"We will have a bistro active soon and are coming back from the killer effects of the Pandemic and the investment we are making brings work for four people in total, so anything in terms of a better profile for the Cotswold Way would be a win-win for the local economy."
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