More Drift in Wales.

It looks like Wales will soon slide even further away from England in matters of rights of way and open access law and practice.

Written Statement – Improving Opportunities to Access the Outdoors for Recreation.

13 February 2017.

Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs.

Wales needs a better and fairer approach to public access for outdoor recreation which is less burdensome to administer, provides for the wide range of activities people want to participate in, with sensible safeguards for land management activities. I intend to develop proposals for consultation on how the current laws could be improved.

Following a broad based review of the legislative framework for access and outdoor recreation, the Welsh Government undertook a consultation in 2015 on improving opportunities to access the outdoors for responsible recreation.  The consultation paper examined the current legislative framework for access to the outdoors and encouraged discussion on a sliding scale of potential options, including making improvements and removing some of the restrictions in place under current access legislation, extending the definition of access land to include other areas and implementing a new legislative framework.

Almost 5800 responses to the consultation were received.

Throughout the process, stakeholders have been invited to give their views on the benefits and constraints of the current system and to suggest how it could be improved to support greater opportunities for public access to the outdoors, establish a consistent approach to rights and enforcement and reduce burdens on Local Authorities and land managers.

The consultation responses provided a wealth of information about the types of recreational activities occurring across Wales, primarily in rural and urban fringe areas.  They also provided an insight into the challenges faced by land managers, existing users and commercial interests due to the limitations of the existing statutory framework.

Most of the responses were of the view the current system is too complex and burdensome.

There were strong, and sometimes polarised, views about how it might be improved.

I have carefully considered the issues raised by the consultation responses. There are several reasons why I believe it is necessary to consider how the laws in this area could be reformed.

The legislative framework needs to be more coherent.  Paths and areas of access land have different rules and regulations on who can go there and what activities are allowed, which may have no relationship to the actual conditions on the ground.

There is unnecessary inconsistency in the way paths and places open to the public are currently recorded, changed, and restricted.

The law needs to reflect current recreational needs and be more flexible to changes in demand and participation. It is currently too difficult to make changes to public access, either to increase it or restrict it.

There is an enduring dispute over the rights of those participating in water recreation on individual rivers and lakes. A resolution should be pursued to establish clarity in this area and to have greater consistency with how other access areas and activities are dealt with.

For these reasons I will consult on proposals for making improvements in three key areas:

Achieving consistency in the opportunities available for participation in different activities and how activities are restricted and regulated;

Simplifying and harmonising procedures for designating and recording public access;

Improving existing advisory forums and how access rights and responsibilities are communicated to all interests.

A fit for purpose model for Wales would support the achievement of several key commitments set out in Taking Wales Forward, including, to reduce sedentary lifestyles, promote Green Growth and develop a ‘Made in Wales’ approach reflecting Welsh needs and aspirations. It would also help to fulfil statutory obligations under the Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Active Travel Act.

Whilst we can learn from approaches already in use in other countries, Wales requires laws which suit its cultural and physical landscape. The Welsh Government has undertaken significant engagement with stakeholders, therefore, we are very aware of the concerns of landowners and the aspirations of access users.

Outdoor recreation already makes a significant contribution to the economy and generates considerable health and social benefits for the population.  This has been demonstrated most recently by the success of the Wales Coast Path, which has already increased Wales’ profile in relation to activity tourism at home and abroad. We now have the opportunity to build on this success.