Following on from last year's Welsh Assembly reception to celebrate mountaineering in Wales, officers and volunteers from the BMC and BMC Cymru met with the Welsh Minister for the Environment, Mr John Griffiths AM in order to pursue a number of issues relating to access.
Following the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, and more recently the referendum in May 2011, much of the legislation and regulations that allow for public access to the countryside of Wales have been devolved from Westminster to the Welsh Government, based at the Senedd in Cardiff.
The Government of Wales Act 2006 also gives the Welsh Government the authority to create, amend, repeal or add any new laws (called “measures” in Wales) in over 20 areas of administration, including recreation, the environment, tourism and sports. This could have far reaching and wide implications for climbers, hill-walkers and mountaineers, and it’s important that the needs and interests of recreational users such as the BMC’s members are well represented and that our demands and requirements are given adequate consideration at the Senedd.
In particular the proposed arrangements for access to the coast of Wales for recreation are quite different to those proposed for England.
The minster with responsibility for the environment and sustainable development (including access) is Mr John Griffiths AM, who co-incidentally hosted the BMC reception to celebrate Welsh mountaineering at the Senedd last year. He is a keen hill-walker, having bagged several Munros, but did admit that tackling Crib Goch on Snowdon in bad weather last year was quite challenging!
The BMC had a number of specific items and topics to discuss with the minister, and the small team that met with the minister and his officers included Elfyn Jones (The BMC’s Access & Conservation Officer for Wales), Roger Bennion (Chair of the BMC’s Access & Conservation Committee), Tom Hutton (Chair of BMC Cymru/Wales) and Ian McMorrin (Welsh based member of the Access & Conservation Committee).
There were four main topics that the BMC wanted to discuss with the Minister, and a brief summary of these and the minister’s response is included below:
Coastal Access – In Wales, unlike England, there are no plans to create an “open access” corridor along the coast, only a way-marked long distance trail around the whole of the Welsh coast. While this will be a great achievement in itself, and is due to be formally opened on May 5th 2012, it does nothing to protect or give a legal right of access to some of the best sea cliffs climbing in the UK. In response, the minister requested that we list all of the important sites for climbing on the coast and provide details of our concerns to his staff. He also emphasised that following the launch of the All-Wales Coast Path in May 2012, that improving public access to the coast would continue to be a priority
Review of CROW (Countryside & Rights Of Way Act) open access land – enshrined in the CROW legislation, which granted a right to roam, is the requirement to have a ten year review of all mapped access land. BMC were concerned that this exercise would overly favour landowners who wanted to close access land or ease the process for closing access land. We were given firm re-assurances that organisations such as the BMC would be consulted, and that proper consideration would be given to looking again at areas that may have been missed in the original mapping process. Meetings have already been arranged with officials to agree the BMC’s role in this review in Wales.
Wind-turbines – In Wales, large scale wind turbine developments can only be considered in specific designated areas, identified in a planning policy Technical Advice Note, TAN 8. This has proven to be a controversial document, as it identifies a large, relatively undeveloped upland area in Mid-Wales as being suitable for wind-turbines. While the minister said that a review of the TAN 8 guidance was not for consideration at this time, he did feel that decisions on such large developments should lie with the Welsh government and not the Westminster appointed (and arguably non-democratic), Infrastructure Planning Commission.
The Single–Environment body for Wales – In 2013 all the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales, the Forestry Commission in Wales and the Environment Agency will be merged into one new all-Wales environmental organisation. There are fears that the recreational elements of the existing organisations could be relegated in favour of greater powers to protect the environment and the requirement to deliver on bio-diversity and habitat protection targets. There is a fear that this could lead to unnecessary regulation and restrictions for some outdoor activities. We were re-assured that that public enjoyment of protected sites and the wider countryside remained at the core of the new organisation’s work, and informed that BMC would be consulted and be given the opportunity to comment on plans and the delivery programme of the new organisation.
The meeting finished with the reassurance that the BMC is a valued and important stakeholder, and the BMC will now be looking to build on this meeting and will aim to create a Welsh Assembly Members group to canvas support for all mountaineering, hill-walking and climbing issues.
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