The Welsh Government committed itself to improving access to land and water, improving rights of way for cyclists and walkers and creating the Wales Coast Path in its Programme for Government 2011-16.
The legislation surrounding access to the countryside is complicated and divided across many different Acts including, amongst others, Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, The Highways Act 1980, Countryside Act 1968, National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and Active travel (Wales) Act 2013. A number of stakeholders including user groups, landowners and local authorities are calling for change, advising that the current legislation does not effectively facilitate outdoor recreational activities.
In July 2013 the Welsh Government announced a review of access and outdoor recreation legislation and guidance. Interested groups were invited to state their views on matters including rights of way and access to water. From the review the Welsh Government concluded 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.
- The Welsh Government therefore committed to publishing a Green Paper on improving public access to land and seeking better facilitation of voluntary access to water. The long anticipated Green Paper on Improving opportunities to access the outdoors for responsible recreation was published earlier this month. The consultation will run from 10 July 2015 to 2 October 2015. The Welsh Government’s view is that the overall objective should be:
to create a framework which allows sensible and responsible use of land and water for non-motorised recreation, with fit for purpose safeguards for land management, other activities, and wildlife.
Key proposals in the Green Paper include:
- To reform procedures and remove restrictions
- This includes proposals to streamline and harmonise existing legislation with a stated aim of removing costly procedures such as: recording public rights of way; the maintenance of routes and creation and diversion and extinguishment of paths. The proposals include removing some of the restrictions on the range of activities that can take place on rights of way and on access land.
- A new more permissive approach to access
- Proposals are included in the Green Paper to extend the definition of access land to include other areas such as woodland, lakes and coastal cliffs, moving towards a more permissive model.
- Improved access to water
- Proposals are included to improve opportunities for responsible access for recreation to inland waters, the coast and maritime environment. Access to inland water has been a contentious issue and the proposals aim to reduce tensions between conflicting activities.