Farmers ‘remain concerned’ over the access proposals contained within Welsh Government’s Taking Forward Wales’ Sustainable Management of Natural Resources consultation, says NFU Cymru.
Today’s written statement by Deputy Minister for Housing & Local Government, Hannah Blythyn AM, provides the government’s response to the chapter four access proposals outlined in the 2017 Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) consultation, with a ‘commitment to access reform’.
The Minister has indicated that she will progress significant changes to access rights and facilitate an assumption of non-motorised multi-use on access land and the public rights of way network. This will provide users, such as cyclists and horse riders, with many more opportunities to access the outdoors.
The Minister has also confirmed that minor technical reforms that were widely supported will be progressed as soon as a suitable legislative vehicle can be identified, including enforcing placing dogs on a short fixed lead in the vicinity of livestock at all times of year and amending the technical provisions around creating, diverting and extinguishing rights of way.
The Minister has announced an independent Access Reform Group will be established to consider in detail how the more significant changes to access rights should be implemented including multiuse paths and reducing restrictions on open access land.
NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board Chairman Hedd Pugh said: “Following the closure of the SMNR consultation in autumn 2017, farmers have been waiting with baited breath to see how Welsh Government would consider the responses and move forward.
“The Minister’s written statement includes a number of non-controversial elements that we look forward to working on with government, not least the proposals around enforcing short fixed-length leads on dogs in the vicinity of livestock all year round which will go some way to assist with concerns over increasing levels of worrying of livestock in Wales.
“There do, however, remain a number of areas of concerns for our members. Near the top of this list are changes to multi-use access rights on public rights of way and access land, in particular. These changes could see ‘thrill-seekers’, as the Minister has described them, being granted increased rights on farmland across Wales. It is important to recognise that access is not always responsible and it is farm businesses across Wales who bear a disproportionate burden of this.
“The proposals also do little to address farmers’ fears that they could end up incurring increased costs and liabilities as a result of extended access. Most farmers will be able to tell you of cases where anti-social behaviour and dog worrying, for example, has had an emotional and financial impact on their farm and yet they are the ones left holding the bill.
“We are pleased that the Minister confirmed to the National Access Forum meeting in Bangor yesterday that changes will be subject to a full regulatory impact assessment which will be necessary if full costs and impacts are to be understood.
“Farmers understand better than most the positive benefits of time spent outdoors in our wonderful Welsh countryside. Farmers manage over 80% of the land area of Wales, providing the backdrop for the Welsh tourism industry, and Wales is already home to more public rights of way per square km than any other UK nation. We want the public to enjoy access to the great outdoors, but this must be managed in a manner that is safe for the custodians of the land and access users.”