Open access for Wales?

Roger Smith looks at the Welsh Government's consultation process

Illustration photo of Open access for Wales?

The Welsh Minister for Sport and Culture, John Griffiths, has initiated a review of the legislative framework governing access to the coast and countryside in Wales. The aim is to “secure better access to the outdoors for recreation, modernise and simplify the current regulatory framework, and provide clarity and certainty over where people can go and what they can do”.

This has led to hopes that in time, legislation similar to that pertaining in Scotland could be introduced in Wales, providing a statutory right of responsible access. Consultation is taking place with user groups, landowning and farming bodies, local authorities and others with an interest in outdoor recreation.

There are currently large areas of Wales of potentially great recreational value which are not open to hillwalkers (and climbers). As in England, access is restricted to ‘access areas’ shown on maps or to places where ‘de facto’ access has been agreed with landowners. Even on Snowdon there have been access problems with walkers being confronted and told to change their routes.

Despite initial concerns expressed by landowning bodies, the Welsh Government seem determined to move ahead with the process, though this will inevitably take some time. A discussion document has been prepared and workshops or seminars are being held across Wales to discuss the pros and cons of more open access.

Once all the responses have been considered, the next step is for the Welsh Government to produce a Green Paper proposing changes to current legislation and outlining a new law of access for Wales. This would be subject to a further process of consultation before being debated in the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly, and eventually becoming law.

This is an exciting development and one which all hillwalkers and climbers should welcome and support.