The cogs of government seem to move very slowly, and if you cast your mind back to 2015 you might recall that the Welsh Government conducted a consultation on access in Wales. Grind forward to Spring 2016, and a report summarising the responses was published. It was quite a monster, since the consultation had received one of the biggest responses in Welsh history. That consultation and the the subsequent report have guided Welsh ministers (slowly) towards a statement which has been published on their website.
Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, says:
“Outdoor recreation makes a significant contribution to the economy and provides considerable health and social benefits. This is demonstrated by the huge success of the Wales Coast Path which has increased Wales’ profile at home and abroad. We now have the opportunity to build on this success.
“Wales needs an approach to public access for outdoor recreation that is less burdensome to administer, provides for a wide range of activities, but at the same time, respects the concerns of landowners.
“Whilst we can learn from other countries’ approaches, Wales requires laws which suit its cultural and physical landscape. We are very much aware of the concerns of landowners and the aspirations of access users. I will publish our proposals at the earliest opportunity so people can have their say, so we achieve a system that works in the best interest of all parties”.
The statement says that she intends to develop proposals on how current laws can be improved in order to:
- Achieve consistency in the opportunities available for participation and how activities are restricted and regulated;
- Simplify procedures for designating and recording public access;
- Improve existing advisory forums and better communicate access rights and responsibilities.
British Cycling has welcomed this announcement, with British Cycling’s Mountain Bike Leadership manager, Dan Cook, saying:
“We’re very pleased with the response from Lesley Griffiths and her department and we believe this is a great step towards a model that has proven to be so successful in Scotland. We know that opening up the countryside for cycling can have a huge impact on the local economy and can make a big difference to the health of the nation as a whole. Scotland has done it, Wales are making great progress and now we need England and the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs to follow suit.”
Welsh Cycling’s Chief Executive Officer, Anne Adams-King also welcomed the news:
“Welsh Cycling is delighted to see the announcement today by Lesley Griffiths about the next stages for improving the access to the outdoors for recreation. Wales has a stunning landscape, which includes some of the best mountain biking in the world. Making the access to this easier and simpler can only be beneficial in terms of the health and wellbeing of the population, improve tourism, and the development of mountain biking. The links to the Active Travel act and Well-being of Future Generations act is also key, and will help to link these bits of legislation together, and deliver against the statutory requirements of both acts.”
British Cycling and Welsh Cycling are working with partners including OpenMTB to ensure the proposed changes enable clearer and more inclusive access. The organisations believe that where public access exists to outdoor places then that access should include responsible mountain biking.
With the Cycling UK and OpenMTB survey also showing support for improved access rights, could we be on the cusp of some real change? We’ll not get too excited just yet, as the speed at which legislation moves means that some of us will be Super Vets before this gets anywhere near the statute books, but at least our kids might get the benefit of open access. Watch this space.