Hugh Robertson responds to debate on Outdoor Pursuits

Hugh Robertson responds to a back bench MP’s adjournment debate on the role that participation in outdoor pursuits can play in supporting tourism, health, well-being and sports-related activity.

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The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): At the start of what I think is my seventh hour in the Chamber today, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for initiating this debate on the important role that participation in outdoor pursuits can play in supporting tourism, health, well-being and sports-related activity.

The Government recognise that tourism is a cornerstone of growth. We also recognise the role that tourism plays in rural economies, and within that the role that outdoor pursuits such as camping, hill walking, climbing and outdoor adventure play in underpinning key local tourism economies. The GREAT campaign, run from the Prime Minister’s office, celebrates the UK’s rich heritage and contemporary culture, our people and places to visit, as well as our great commercial strengths. Outdoor leisure is a key element of that campaign as it enables us to promote the United Kingdom as a fantastic destination for adventure and exploration.

Officials in my Department are exploring the possibility of linking the campaign with other areas of Government activity, such as the Department of Health’s Change4Life scheme. Across the piece, VisitBritain’s greatest ever global tourism campaign, supported by GREAT, is expected to bring in 4.6 million extra visitors, £2.3 billion additional spend, and create nearly 60,000 jobs over four years. Analysis has shown that investment in GREAT to date is projected to help generate around a quarter of a billion pounds for the British economy over the next two years. The rural economy is well placed to benefit from that investment.

Greg Mulholland: I was delighted to be at King’s Cross station to welcome the new Discover Leeds tourism campaign. It has received regional growth funding, which is marvellous. Will the Minister acknowledge the important role and opportunity provided by Britain on Foot to get people walking in urban and suburban areas? We have a great example in the Meanwood valley trail that goes from Leeds city centre through my constituency, nature reserves and parks, to connect with the countryside. The scheme applies to all areas.

Hugh Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and—I say this every time—for the work he has done on the rugby league world cup. I am sorry that I was not able to join him this morning—the reason is obvious: the Bill—but I acknowledge his contribution. The scheme has been incredibly successful, and a key objective of much of the reconstitution work around the Olympic park was to create such walking trails. Indeed, I led quite a lot of work last year to ensure that the full commitments on the cycling area are upheld when the track is reconstituted after the games.

In tandem with the VisitBritain investment, VisitEngland has a £25 million campaign, including “Holidays at Home Are GREAT”, which is expected to create more than 12,000 jobs, with £500 million extra spent by tourists between 2011 and 2015.

The current economic climate is, of course, making life hard for many communities and businesses, so apart from GREAT, what are the Government doing to help? There is specific Government support. For example, VisitEngland includes the promotion of outdoor activity in its work with the support of the regional growth fund and investment from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield will be pleased to hear that it is entirely supportive of the aims of the Britain on Foot campaign, as they align with increasing activity in the great outdoors and the subsequent economic benefit for tourism businesses. VisitEngland recognises the connection between increased outdoor activity-related tourism and increased sales of outdoor clothing and equipment. The agenda of the Outdoor Industries Association and Britain on Foot is very much aligned with VisitEngland’s strategic framework for tourism in England. Its focus on modernising the rural offering and getting younger people in particular interested in outdoor experiences will ultimately benefit the rural economy.

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): My constituency has the Pennine way running through it, Brontë country, Top Withens and Ilkley moor—I will not sing the song. It is a great privilege to be part of that fantastic countryside, but its economy is important and the money that the Minister is speaking of is important in stimulating the economy. Does he recognise the importance of the rural service economy?

Hugh Robertson: It has been quite a day for me, moving from the same-sex marriage debate to Ilkley moor, but I enthusiastically endorse what my hon. Friend says.

Hon. Members will be pleased that mountaineering is receiving £3 million through Sport England’s whole sport plans from 2013 to 2017. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced a £2 million fund for the creation of new permanent access rights within a £25 million package to promote rural tourism and support rural tourism businesses, following the rural economy growth review in 2011. The paths for communities scheme funded by the rural development programme for England aims to develop and enhance the rights of way network to the benefit of the local economy by funding projects developed by local communities.

Lilian Greenwood: How should people get to those great outdoor places? Rural transport is important, particularly for young people and people on low incomes who might not have access to a motor car. Has the Minister discussed that with his colleagues in the Department for Transport?

Hugh Robertson: In all honesty, the answer is no, but that is an extremely good point and I will ensure we follow it up. If the hon. Lady is happy for me to write to her, I will do so. Part of the attraction of many places is that they are remote. It is important that we open them up, particularly to young people, while maintaining the correct balances.

In the past 12 months, the Government have announced that £107 million will be made available during this Parliament for cycling. That included last month’s announcement of a fund worth up to £12 million being made available to local authorities working in partnership with the national parks to improve conditions for cyclists.

What else has happened? Access, through rights of way and open access, is probably the best it has ever been in England. Access is incredibly important for the economy, and we can be very proud of our network of national trails, which can be important generators for local business. For example, university of Exeter research shows that the south-west coast path generates around £300 million a year for the economy of the region and supports around 7,500 jobs.

Natural England is committed to increasing the number and range of people who can experience and benefit from the natural environment, and it is leading on the Government’s ambition that everybody should have fair access to a good-quality natural environment. It is championing “Outdoors for All” and the natural environment on behalf of the Government and ensuring that the green-space volunteering and heritage sectors work side by side with partners to help to improve the quality of everybody’s experience of natural places.

I will touch on two of the issues my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield mentioned in a minute, but first let me say that the Olympic legacy has been making an impact on health and well-being since we won the bid back in 2005. If he had told me that might happen on that happy night in Singapore when we were celebrating the success of the bid, I would have replied that that wonderful ambition was unlikely to be realised, but since the bid to stage the games was won in 2005 we have managed to ensure that more than 1.5 million more people are playing sport regularly. That is a remarkable achievement and one that no other host nation has managed.

Sport England and the Department of Health are working together to align programmes to support those who are least active. We have recently had an opportunity for interested organisations to apply to the “Get Healthy, Get into Sport” fund. The fund is seeking to improve the evidence base on the role of sport to engage inactive people—many of whom, I suspect, would be attracted by precisely the activities my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield is advocating—and produce the right type of information that is of interest to those who commission public health programmes.

Let me touch on two issues my hon. Friend mentioned. I always get asked about International Olympic Committee votes. It is important to say that the only people who vote on which sports go into the mix—he is absolutely right, the vote is in the September IOC session in Buenos Aires—are the IOC members, and they are extremely resistant to pressure from Government to get sports in and out. A number of sports are trying to get in this time around, some of which would do us, as a country, quite a lot of good, so we would like to see them in. The advice to mountaineering—indeed, the advice I would give to any sport—is that it is important to take a strategic long-term view. Mountaineering may be lucky in 2020, but if it is not, the sport’s representatives need to keep plugging away, because the programme changes regularly. Even in London, we could sense that there were some sports that may not have a long-term future in the summer games. There is a case for mountaineering in either the winter or the summer games; as there is a place for it in both, it is well worth plugging away at the strategic level.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take confidence from what I have said. I absolutely acknowledge the opportunities for outdoor pursuits, and I would be delighted to meet with the organisations he mentioned. If he does not mind, could he give me a month while we get this uncontroversial little piece of legislation through Parliament? I give him my assurance that I will ensure that the arms-length bodies give full support to the Britain on Foot initiative.

Mr Speaker, thank you for remaining with us for most of these seven hours—

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) raised the issue of using outdoor pursuits in education. Will the Minister give a commitment to work with the Department for Education to achieve that?

Hugh Robertson: I think at this stage of the evening I might just say, “Indeed, yes. Trust me, it will be done.”

In conclusion, and before I go off and make my final speech of the evening outside the Chamber, I will finish by confirming that through many of the initiatives in place, the Government recognise entirely the important role that informal outdoor activity and sport-related activity play in supporting tourism and the health and well-being agendas. There is a unique opportunity to market this country, and we have seen the effects already, with an increase in visitor numbers post-2012. The hon. Gentleman and others can be assured that outdoor pursuits will play a key part in that process.

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