Skip to main content

Economy: Outdoor Recreation

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their estimate of the value to the economy of informal recreational activities such as walking, cycling and mountaineering.

My Lords, outdoor recreation forms a significant part of the UK tourism industry, generating £3.5 billion a year from walking, cycling and related activities, including overnight stays. Since 2003, the Government have invested £750,000 in promoting activity tourism through VisitBritain’s outdoor England marketing campaigns.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am glad that his figure is more or less the same as mine. We are talking about activities such as walking in the mountains, swimming in the sea, rambles in local country parks, cycling along lanes, bird-watching and many related activities. They might be classed as informal countryside recreation, which, by and large, people undertake with friends or family or on their own, and not in an organised way. The Minister suggested that the Government regard such activity as high priority. Should it not be a higher priority, given the potential for growth that it offers through its impact both on the economy and on the health of the people of this country?

My Lords, the Government are encouraged by the response to VisitBritain’s campaigns. The noble Lord is right that there are benefits. Visitors from abroad bring resources in, and areas also see economic growth from internal tourism from the rest of the UK. There is also benefit from improving the health of the nation in the healthy activities involved in this tourism, as the noble Lord identified.

My Lords, in light of the Chancellor’s comments in the Daily Mail last October, do Her Majesty’s Government intend to allow informal recreational activities such as those described to count towards the target that school children should have at least four hours per week of sport by 2010?

My Lords, the increase in the hours that school children should spend on physical activities is greatly to be welcomed. We all recognise that it is part of an important campaign to reduce obesity in children, and so improve the health of the nation. Aspects of these activities certainly fit into that pattern, but we should recognise that mountain climbing and so on are much more accessible to certain school children than to others.

My Lords, the Minister has recognised the health benefits from this. How much are the Government prepared to spend on, for instance, making sure that footpaths are signposted and that many of them are available throughout the year, perhaps by building better surfaces? How can that be offset against higher spending in the Department of Health? If this calculation has not been done, is it not about time that it was?

My Lords, my impression is that it is not Governments who keep footpaths open. Governments can commit the countryside to be available to the nation, as we did with the right to roam in the Act that we passed a few years ago. It is the voluntary activity and insistence of meritorious organisations such as the Ramblers’ Association that keeps footpaths open and available to the public.

My Lords, the Government have put the legislation in place, but are they aware that the last England Leisure Visits Survey found that since 1998 there has been a continuous downward trend in the number of leisure visits made in England?

My Lords, there have been difficulties in recent years. We all recognise the blight upon activity during the foot and mouth period, which closed down great parts of rural England, but there is recovery. The amount of money being spent in the countryside—the number of overnight stays in village hotels and so on, which the tourist industry reflects—shows growth.

My Lords, have the Government done any research into the number of new people visiting the countryside following the CROW Act, as they were going to? Secondly, will the Minister ensure that all departments get behind the initiative to get school children on to farms in the countryside, which runs from September 2007 to July 2008? At the moment Defra, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills are sponsoring this, but it should go across all government departments.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that we should seek the widest possible co-operation across government for that worthy aim. She will recognise that those three departments are bound to be the lead departments for this activity. We have no doubt that this campaign will bring great benefits.

My Lords, if the Government are so supportive of informal recreational activities such as walking, cycling and mountaineering, why don’t we oppose proposals coming from national parks on vehicle access charges and bed taxes?

My Lords, bed taxes are a thorny issue, which is part of a general review that will emerge in the not-too-distant future. I have no comment to make about that at present, except to say that it is purely a proposal. On the other point identified by my noble friend, it will be recognised that the Government have been concerned that unrestrained vehicle traffic, particularly traffic that can get off-road, can destroy the very beauty and amenities which people go to the countryside to enjoy, and we support the national parks in this matter.