John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport
The Programme for Government includes important commitments to improve public access to Wales’ wonderful outdoors, in particular for families and young children; and to improve rights of way and create a Wales Coast Path.
In July 2013 I launched a review of legislation relating to access and outdoor recreation with a view to finding ways of increasing opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors and all the social and economic benefits this can bring.
This Statement provides Assembly Members with an update on developments in outdoor recreation and how we will build on this during the remainder of this Assembly term.
The initial pre-consultation period allowed interested groups to state their views and facilitated important discussions and consideration of the issues involved. A wide range of views were expressed on all the matters covered by the review, including rights of way and access to water. More work is required including further evidence gathering before we should decide the way forward. However it is already clear that:
- On land, there is a need to improve our rights of way network and make the associated legislative framework on access more effective;
- On water, there is a need to see an increase in the number of voluntary access agreements providing for a range of recreational activities.
We will therefore publish a Green Paper on improving public access to land and seeking better facilitation of voluntary access to water. We do not plan to pursue primary legislation in this Assembly Term.
Rights of way are very important to our local communities providing easy access to the local countryside and contributing millions to the Welsh economy each year. Since 2008/9 the Welsh Government has invested £8.9 million to help local authorities to implement their rights of way improvement plans. The funding has contributed to improving approximately 6,801km, 21% of the 33,000km network in Wales. Projects in 2013/14 included a good number of improvements to cater specifically for the needs of those with mobility problems. For example in Bangor the Authority has replaced old existing kissing gates with new wider self-closing gates; and in Merthyr they have extended provision for people with mobility issues by installing five recreational picnic bench areas with pushchair and wheelchair access. I have committed a further £1 million of capital funding for 2014/15.
During the review there was strong support for the need to simplify and modernise the legislative framework for rights of way. I have instructed officials to implement changes that will go some way to easing pressures on local authorities in relation to rights of way, including updating guidance and reviewing existing secondary legislation. I intend to issue updated guidance to local authorities on producing rights of way improvement plans within 12 months and in time for the ten-yearly review of those plans due in 2017.
The review underlined considerable divergence of views between the different groups who use water for leisure purposes. Welsh Government continues to encourage and facilitate voluntary access agreements. Over 2013/14 the Welsh Government invested a further £460k in facilitating access to inland water through the Splash fund. This has enabled projects such as the lakeside access improvements at Breakwater Country Park in Anglesey to increase water edge access for all and create new and improved disability angling opportunities on the lake. In 2014/15 it is my intention to review the way in which funding is allocated through Splash to improve its effectiveness.
It has been two years since the very successful launch of the Wales Coast Path. Over the past year local authorities, in partnership with Natural Resources Wales have been making further improvements in the alignment of the route and in the provision of information along the way. For example, in Gwynedd the Pont Tonfannau Bridge, a 50m long steel bridge over the River Dysynni installed at Tywyn has removed an 8 mile diversion. Along with improvements to alignment there are opportunities to create circular routes linking with the path.
Since 2008 the Welsh Government has invested over £11.5 million in its creation and in addition to the £1.1 million I have committed for further development in 2014/15, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport has committed £250k towards repairs following the devastating storms earlier this year. In its first two years the Wales Coast Path has generated over £32 million of expenditure into the Welsh economy.
And in July 2013 the Wales Coast Path was the overall winner of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Awards for Planning Excellence, the premier awards for planning in the UK.
Throughout this month of May we are celebrating the anniversary of the coast path’s completion and launch. It is my intention to build on these events with increased focus, promotion and activity for future anniversaries. In general we will work to strengthen promotion and profile recognising the considerable success to date and further potential.
Natural Resources Wales has been working on the decadal review of access maps under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 [“CRoW”]. In the short to medium term it is my intention to look at ways to make this process simpler and more pro-active in future for the benefit of both users and landowners. Publically accessible land under CRoW provides significant opportunities for walkers to enjoy the outdoors and is a key attribute to consider in the context of the wider picture of improving access.
Natural Resources Wales will shortly issue its Outdoor Recreation and Access Strategic Statement. We will continue our close partnership with NRW in delivering greater opportunities to access the outdoors.
We are supporting a wide-ranging access agenda and have made significant progress over recent years. I want to build on this during the remainder of this Assembly term and continue the progress achieved across Welsh Government in developing Wales as a leader in outdoor recreation provision. The Green Paper will enable further engagement to inform and help shape our policy and actions over the next two years and our ideas and plans for the next Assembly.