by Antony de Heveningham
April 27, 2016
Between July and October 2015 the Welsh government ran an open consultation on access which asked countryside users what reforms they’d like to see, including whether Wales would be a suitable place to introduce Scottish-style open access. The government has just published a summary of the results, and if you’re interested in riding your bike further afield than purpose-built mountain bike trails, it makes for very interesting reading.
Titled “Improving access to the outdoors for responsible recreation” (catchy, eh?), the consultation received one of the biggest responses in Welsh history, with 5,796 people putting finger to keyboard. Cyclists were by far the largest group to respond, with 4,044 people sending in a template response prepared by the CTC (now Cycling UK), together with British Cycling and mountain bike advocacy consortium OpenMTB.
British Cycling and Welsh Cycling believe that where public access exists to outdoor places then that access should include responsible cycling – Dan Cook, British Cycling
Of the non-template responses, 113 asked for a wider range of activities to be allowed on rights of way, and again most of those responding were cyclists (If those numbers sound low, it’s because Cycling UK’s template was apparently counted as a single response). On the thorny question of whether Wales should follow Scotland in creating a right of responsible recreation for all land, individual respondents were split more or less evenly. Cycling UK argued for Scottish-style “presumed access” while landowners’ groups like the Countryside Alliance and the National Farmers Union are opposed to widening access, arguing that existing rights of way are adequate.
British Cycling have issued a press release welcoming the outcome of the consultation, and calling on the Welsh Assembly to open up more of the countryside for mountain biking. Dan Cook, British Cycling’s Mountain Bike Leadership manager, says:
“British Cycling and Welsh Cycling believe that where public access exists to outdoor places then that access should include responsible cycling.
“The Scottish Land Reform Act proves that responsible access for people on bikes is sustainable, manageable and highly beneficial to tourism, health and the economy as well as integrating well with other countryside users.
“We believe that this responsible access model should be explored for the whole of the country – it could lead to a positive rise in tourism in Wales.”
Before we get too excited, it’s worth remembering that the consultation will only be used as a guide by ministers. However it shows that the idea of Scottish-style access for Wales is gaining traction, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on future developments.