Page last updated at 00:25 GMT, Wednesday, 26 May 2010 01:25 UK

Call for 'right to roam' to help recession-hit towns

Disused railway line in north London
Hundreds of miles of disused railway track could be brought back into use

Creating new public spaces from disused railway lines and forgotten canals could help regenerate urban areas hit by the recession, a think tank says.

Demos wants the "right to roam" - introduced 10 years ago to open up the UK countryside - to be extended to towns and cities.

It says support should be given to communities to help them use such sites for leisure and events like festivals.

British Waterways, which manages docks, rivers and canals, is backing the call.

Demos says that, with spending cuts likely to reduce the number of new publicly-funded developments, effort should be made to bring existing heritage sites back into use.

This could help physically regenerate run-down urban areas, renew a sense of local community, and fit well with Prime Minister David Cameron's idea of the Big Society, the think tank adds.

Health and safety

Co-author of the Resilient Places report Samuel Jones said: "Urban infrastructure like canals and old railway lines is the foundation of strong, vibrant communities.

"But ordinary people won't be able to really be part of this society without the access, and freedom, to make the communities their own."

Demos is asking the coalition government to remove obstacles that could prevent communities using these spaces, such as health and safety regulations.

Communities across Britain now use their canals, rivers and towpaths in ways that their original builders could never have foreseen
Robin Evans, British Waterways

It wants free legal aid and advice to be available to individuals and groups to help them organise local festivals or sports days on the sites.

The report cites a number of success stories, such as the High Line, a disused railway track in New York, which has attracted 25,000 visitors a day since it reopened in 2009 as an elevated park.

In the UK, Brighton has opened up its 482 miles of sewers for visitor tours. In Birmingham, redevelopment of the city's canals has boosted civic pride and created new space for business and leisure.

Robin Evans, chief executive of British Waterways, said: "Forty years ago we tore down the fences that prevented local people from using and enjoying their waterways. The results have been astonishing.

"Communities across Britain now use their canals, rivers and towpaths in ways that their original builders could never have foreseen.

"We now want to go further by removing the remaining obstacles which bar people from taking a greater role in their local waterways."

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