3. Local Access Forum Conference : 19th October 2016
Mr. J.J. Herbert had attended the Conference on behalf of the Forum. He also pointed out that Mr. R. Pittard and Mr. R. Simpson had also attended in their capacity as Members of the Bridgend and Cardiff Local Access Forums respectively.
Mr. Herbert referred in particular to two presentations given at the Conference, viz
1. A presentation from Ms. Rachel Lewis-Davies, National Farmers Union Cymru based on looking at access issues from a landowner perspective. He considered the presentation to have been extremely interesting and hoped that it would be issued in due course along with the minutes of the Conference. The presentation had given attendees a good understanding of the need to understand and achieve a balance between access for users and landowners’ needs.
2. A presentation from a representative of Cycling UK, which Mr. Herbert felt, unfortunately, illustrated a desire for users to be able not to be restricted to cycling on Rights of Way, but where ever they wished to. He also referred to a recent press article regarding an increase in illegal off-road biking within the South Wales Valleys and to NRW concerns regarding such.
Mr. Pittard indicated he would like to allude to various issues regarding Natural Resources Wales, some of which were linked to the Conference. He also alluded to the fact that he would be producing a newsletter regarding the Conference in his capacity as a Member of the Youth Hostel Association, which he would be happy to forward to the Secretary for distribution to Forum Members. He also pointed out that the next LAF Chairs’ meeting was to take place on 8th December, 2016.
As far as NRW was concerned, Mr. Pittard referred to there being a lack of representation at the Conference, despite there being several current NRW workstreams which could affect LAFs and/or Local Authorities’ work. He considered that it would be advantageous if there was, at least, a periodic report from NRW as to the potential impact on LAFs and/or Local Authorities of their various workstreams. He was fully aware that they had been subject to cutbacks, but, nevertheless, alluded to their statutory requirements in certain aspects.
Mr. Pittard also referred to the development (following on from the Environment Act) of a Statement of Natural Resources in Wales, which would become an annual publication. The hope was that the state of natural resources would improve, not deteriorate, over time. He alluded to the fact that there appeared to be many elements being dealt with by the Environment Sections of NRW, but that, arguably, there should be more involvement of the Access Sections.
Mr. Pittard also informed the Forum that there was also an NRW workstream underway in terms of looking at how to mitigate against factors effecting natural resources (e.g. climate change). He also referred to an open meeting taking place in Cardiff on 7th December 2016 regarding Sustainable Land Management and he considered that LAF representation would be useful. Members were able to register to attend on an individual basis.
Finally, Mr. Pittard referred to the development of Local Service Boards and their replacement by Public Service Boards. He suggested that NRW staff (given the pressures on resources) might find it difficult to be able to give advice to a Board given its extremely wide remit. He mentioned the development of Area Statements, but suggested that the actual areas had yet to be identified.
Mr. Teague acknowledged the importance of the issues alluded to above, particularly, for example given the requirement on all Local Authorities to rewrite their Rights of Way Improvement Plans.
Mr. Herbert felt that NRW was beginning to establish itself as an organisation, but pointed out that it was being affected by significant external factors such as the Wales Bill, the effect of the Welsh Government elections and Brexit.
Mr. Traherne concurred with many of the sentiments expressed and felt there were clearly resource implications affecting NRW.
Mr. Pittard suggested that, given the external factors alluded to earlier, the issue of ‘access’ was potentially way down the relevant Minister’s agenda.
AGREED - T H A T the Secretary convey to Natural Resources Wales the points raised during the Forum’s discussion and invite a representative of NRW to address the next meeting of the Forum.