Open Spaces Society Deplores Welsh Government’s Attack On Public Paths
The Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body, is deeply concerned that the Welsh Government has attacked the public-path network, in its consultation paper ‘Improving opportunities to access the outdoors for responsible recreation’. The society considers that Welsh Government appears to dismiss the historic value of the public-path network, and its contribution to Welsh culture.
The Open Spaces Society has responded to the consultation paper, deploring the proposal to allow for the prioritisation of recreational routes and access areas since this will allow many paths, which are also public highways, to fall into disuse. While it welcomes proposals for greater access to the countryside, the society makes it clear that this must not be at the expense of the public path network as threatened in the paper.
Says Kate Ashbrook, the society’s general secretary: ‘The highway authorities must maintain the whole path-network, charging offenders for the removal of obstructions and thereby recovering the cost, and ensuring that farmers and landowners, in return for any money they receive under Glastir (the agri-environment scheme), keep all their paths in good order as required by law.’
‘If local authorities are encouraged to pick and choose which routes to maintain we shall find that we lose the bulk of them—yet they are all highways in law, just like any road, and we have the right to use and enjoy them.
‘The Welsh Government and local authorities need to recognise that money spent on public paths and access is an investment, with excellent returns for health, tourism and the local economy,’ Kate declares.
The society has proposed a number of innovations, including the following:
- A duty on local authorities to take enforcement action against unlawful works on common land.(2)
- A right for horse-riders on all commons.
- Highway authorities to be empowered to issue on-the-spot fines for path blockers.
- Highway authorities to charge the offender the full cost of removing illegal obstructions.
- Glastir payments to be withdrawn when paths are blocked.
- Cycle tracks to be shown as public highways on definitive maps of public paths.
- Shared use of routes to be permitted where appropriate and where it will not cause conflict.
- Access rights to be extended to all open country.
- A legal requirement to provide access points to all access land.
- Local authorities to be encouraged to dedicate their land as village greens, to give local people rights of recreation there and to protect it from development.
Access to the coast to be extended beyond the coastal path to provide spreading room for public enjoyment.