(k) Welsh Government Consultation Document: ‘Improving Opportunities to Access the Outdoors for Responsible Recreation’ -
In addition to the Consultation Document itself, members received a copy of a draft response prepared on behalf of the Local Access Forums of Wales. In providing the draft response to individual LAFs, it had been made clear that it was designed to neither supersede, nor replace, any responses that individual LAFs might wish to make. In addition, Bob Guy also informed members that the Council would be submitting its own response. Given that part of the role of the LAF was to advise the Local Authority, he would circulate the draft version of the Council response the following day to members. It was acknowledged that the timetable for responding to the consultation was now extremely limited (i.e. with a closing date of 2nd October 2015).
The introduction to the Consultation Paper referred to it exploring issues around providing the right recreation opportunities in the right places. Its purpose was to explore the potential to develop contemporary legislation that would better affect current, and future, demand for outdoor recreation and provide a new regulatory framework which allowed sensible and responsible use of land and water for non-motorised recreation, with fit for purpose safeguards for land management, other activities and wildlife. It was not the intention of Welsh Government through the consultation to amend, or seek the amendment of, legislation relating to hunting, fishing and shooting. However, comments were welcomed on how those activities might be positively or negatively impacted by any potential changes that were within the scope of the consultation.
To inform the content of the consultation process, Welsh Government had commenced a review of the legislative framework for access and outdoor recreation. The initial pre-consultation period, which included three workshops, had allowed interested groups to state their views and had facilitated important discussions about the issues involved. The resulting Consultation Document was designed to capture and structure the wide range of evidence and opinion which had been presented during the process.
The Consultation Document indicated that there was no intention on the part of Welsh Government to introduce legislation on access in the current Assembly Term (2011-16). Ideas and comments were being sought on what might be done through legislative and non-legislative means. Views would inform priorities for the remainder of the current Assembly Term and the decisions of the future Welsh Government.
Given the limited time available to submit a response, reference was made to the possibility of seeking an extension to enable individual members to submit any additional comments following the meeting. Mr. Pittard asked whether the draft response of the Council was “tailored” to the Vale or represented a wider approach. Bob Guy considered the response to cover both aspects.
The Consultation Document contained 14 specific questions as follows ( a summary of the discussion and the Forum’s comments / views is shown in italics:
Question 1: What are your views on the principles outlined above? If you
would suggest changing them, please explain how and why.
During the initial discussion, Gwyn Teague referred to his view of the current legislation governing these matters as being “cumbersome”. There was a general consensus amongst Forum members as to the need for a clearer definition of the use of the word “responsible” (e.g. “responsible recreation …..” and “responsible use of land and water …..”).
Question 2: Tell us your views on the issues highlighted above, and whether
there are other key challenges you believe need to be resolved?
A number of members concurred with Gwyn Teague’s view that the existing legislation was, indeed, cumbersome and in need of updating. Again, a number of members felt that officers should be given a greater “empowerment”, particularly given the length of time that existing processes often took. Other points raised included whether the need for Legal Orders could, in fact, be removed in certain circumstances (again, with the need for a more streamlined process in mind).
Question 3: What changes, if any, do you think need to be made to improve
and simplify the procedures for recording, creating, diverting or closing
public rights of way?
Ms. Haden asked for clarification as to the use of digitisation. Gwyn Teague explained that the legal version of the Definitive Map still had to be maintained in hard copy format. However, there was a general consensus that digitisation was an area that should be used more widely. A discussion ensued as to whether responsibility for serving of DMMO Application Notices should, in fact, be transferred to the Local Authority and should be able to be made in electronic form. There was a general consensus that Notices should be able to be issued electronically and that Local Authorities should have the responsibility of determining any objections received. In coming to this view, members noted that, currently, even if one single objection was received to an Order, the matter was referred to the Planning Inspectorate. Members were also in agreement that the Local Authority should also be able to take a view as to whether an objection could be regarded as “spurious” in nature. One further point made was that it would be advantageous, in certain cases, for an application to be transferred in the event of the original applicant having passed away. As far as diversions / extinguishments / creations were concerned, current processes could be quite complex and, for example, involve compensation provisions. Other issues could arise if, for example, grant funding was involved. Reference was made to the possibility of providing for a system of Draft Orders and Gwyn Teague indicated that this would concur with what the Council intended to say in its own response to the Consultation document. The Forum also expressed the view that diversions should be part of the planning permission process.
Question 4: What changes, if any, do you think need to be made to improve
and simplify the provisions available to local authorities for making
improvements on the ground?
Members raised no further issues beyond those which were to be included in the Council’s response.
Question 5: What non-legislative changes would you like to see in the
meantime that you believe would help to improve the rights of way network
in Wales and reduce the burden on local authorities?
It was agreed that the provision of additional guidance for landowners / walkers on the Council website (possibly including a link to the Natural Resources Wales information) would be advantageous. Members felt that PROW officers should have powers to serve Improvement Notices in order that many issues could be dealt with at that “local” level. The concept of Fixed Penalty Notices being issued in certain circumstances was also considered to be of merit so long as those Notices were issued having given landowners an opportunity to comply .
GT to clarify reference made at meeting to “last resort”.
Question 6: How should the number, role, membership, and purpose of
local access forums be redefined?
Jeff Wyatt summarised the recruitment process which had been undertaken in respect of the reappointed Forum. He acknowledged that recruitment had shown similar issues to many organisations, in terms of attracting a range of diverse representation on the Group. As such, and acknowledging the difficulties that organisations sometimes faced in achieving such, the desirability of greater diversity of membership was acknowledged. Ms. Haden suggested that, if individuals were appointed through an organisation, they should be able to nominate a substitute to attend. However, the existing legislation provided that, although organisations were invited to contribute to the process, all current members were appointed as individuals. The possibility of direct approaches to certain sectors (e.g. the Black Minority Ethnic Community) was alluded to.
Question 7: How should the rights and responsibilities surrounding dogs in
the countryside be harmonised to provide greater certainty over what is
acceptable and what is not, in a way that makes communicating messages
about responsible dog ownership and handling more straightforward?
Gwyn Teague advised that the Council intended to represent that making clear dogs should be kept on leads would reduce ambiguity in the current framework. Members represented that dog walkers should be responsible for appropriate disposal of the faeces of their animals.
Question 8: How could current legislation be changed to make it easier to allow for a wider range of activities on existing and new paths?
Gwyn Teague confirmed that the points raised by members were similar to those which would be covered in the Council’s response to the Consultation Document.
Question 9: How could legislation better strike a balance between the
various demands of motorised users, landowners and the natural
Gwyn Teague confirmed that, within the Vale of Glamorgan, there did not tend to be a lot of issues arising between different users. Mr. McMillan pointed out that there was no special route for motorised vehicles. However, if there were to be so, he posed the question as to whether they should be limited to motorised vehicles only, given his view that certain mixed uses were not “conducive”. Mr. Herbert felt that legislation had been designed to “wipe out” use of motorised vehicles in such areas, with the side effect of denying some people who were otherwise unable to go out, the opportunity to do so. Members reiterated their comments in respect of Question 1, in terms of the need for a clear definition of “responsible use”.
Question 10: How should the need for new or improved access opportunities be identified, planned, and provided?
Members were informed that the Council’s draft response included comments on coastal cliffs and recreational activities. Furthermore, the Council was generally in support of a review of the Rights of Way network.
Question 11: What are your views on the benefits and challenges of creating a
right of responsible recreation to all land in Wales?
The Consultation document referred to practice elsewhere in Europe and in Scotland. Gwyn Teague posed the question of whether there should be a complete “rebuilding” of provisions in Wales. However, Mr. Pittard suggested that such a radical overhaul could be detrimental in terms of what currently existed. Mr. Traherne considered that most people walking within the countryside preferred to have a trail to follow. He also was of the view that if there was a completely open network, landowners would be unable to maintain it. Mr. McMillan concurred with the view that, even if open access existed, most people tended to keep to paths. Ms. Haden quoted her own experience of the system prevailing in Scotland (i.e. where footpaths are maintained, but people were able to go off the maintained areas) and had not encountered any particular issues with their approach. Reference was also made to the situation which would occur if people were injured on “open access” land. It was explained that, within the access land mapped under CROW, there was a reduced liability on landowners, where they had dedicated specific access land.
In considering the advantages of maintaining the “status quo” or moving to an option of open access, reference was made to the possibility of the latter, whilst at the same time retaining a core path network. Mr. Traherne explained that, if land was fenced, a problem would ensue in terms of landowners and that it would be easier if the existing system was changed as alluded to earlier (i.e. more “power” at local level in terms of Orders). He also suggested that it could lead to the overall resource for Rights of Way being reduced by Welsh Government.
In conclusion, the Chairman suggested that the consensus appeared to be that members wished to maintain a good network, but to make it easier to deal with issues at a “local” level. Members agreed with this concept and the majority view was to, in effect, maintain the “status quo” (as opposed to complete open access).
Question 12: What approach do you advocate to improve opportunities for
responsible access for recreation on inland waters?
No specific comments / views to be submitted.
Question 13: What approach do you advocate to improve opportunities for
responsible access for recreation on the coast and in the marine
No specific comments / views to be submitted.
Question 14: What would be the advantages and disadvantages of a
comprehensive statutory code of conduct for outdoor recreation in Wales?
Mr. Pittard indicated his preference for a Standard Code for the whole of Britain.
In concluding, Bob Guy considered there to be no major differences between the Council’s intended response to the Consultation document and that of the LAF, with the exception of the LAF’s “more cautious” approach re Question 11. Officers would review the Council’s response in the light of the comments made by LAF members and provide a copy to the LAF Chairman for comment. Once the Council’s response had been finalised / agreed with the Cabinet Member, he could provide a copy to LAF members in order to draw attention to any differences between the two.