Local Access Forums were established under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) to advise local authorities on improving public access and recreation in the countryside and urban open spaces.
Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC is in the process of forming a new LAF – they are appointed every 3 years. I have forwarded the application form to possible interested people. The LAF appoints people to cover represention of all interests, from horse-riders to walkers, farmers to landowners and commoners – all stakeholders in current jargon.
There are 22 LAFs in Wales, and they get together for an Annual Conference. I went, along with our Chair Steve Carter and Rights of Way Officer Jason Bragg. I drove up to Builth Wells, to the Royal Welsh showground, on a dry sunny day. I left in good time and was in Builth with plenty of time to spare.
I parked just over the bridge and enjoyed the autumnal colours which had been wonderful most of the journey. The woodland is tinged with browns to orange, full of promise of a really stunning leaf-change to come.
The river makes a good foreground.
After a walk through the town, I carried on to the showground. Our conference was in the top building, Hafod a Hendre.
The first presentation was from the Welsh Government’s Head of Landscape and Outdoor Recreation John Watkins, updating where the Welsh Government is heading on access. The new Minister is keen on urban green spaces and green corridors. Open Spaces Society has voiced concern that Wales is heading towards wiping off paths that are not currently in much use, and we heard cost-cutting phrases like “reducing the burden”, which make me nervous about policy-creep from England in times of budget cuts, even when accompanied by “widening access free at the point of use”.
Next up was Jont Bulbeck from NRW (Natural Resources Wales) on the Outdoor Recreation Survey – the 2016 report on adult participation has been released. Walking is most popular (83% in previous month), with most mentions of where? being to parks (16%), woods (15%) and roadside paths (13%), and in answer to why? for health & exercise (23%) or walking a dog (22%). Disability, lack of time and bad weather put people off. There were sections on expenditure (58% of outdoor recreation is done without spending anything ie free), and about health benefits. A question was asked: does the survey capture benefits to mental health? Er, No. Soft sighs and shuffling on seats indicated disapproval: LAFs know the evidence on this one.
Since forever, I’ve doodled in lectures and talks, but I seem to have lots of scribbles and only a couple of doodles.
Before lunch, we had a farmer’s view from NFU-Cymru Rachel Lewis-Davies, raising the attractions to landowners of modernising, prioritising and rationalising the path network, LAFs and councils working in partnership with the landowners for whom the countryside is their factory floor. They have been very engaged with the Green Paper. Indeed.
The afternoon sessions began with British Horse Society’s Jan Roche, who showed the BHS video for their “Dead Slow” campaign. As she said, horses can be very good in traffic and then spook at a bit of paper. (I love the carrier bag charge because we don’t get so many blown on roads or in hedges.) The police don’t record horse accidents unless someone goes to hospital from the scene – BHS will do. BHS Mark Weston also spoke (noting the size of the horse economy in Wales), and there were excellent talks from the Ramblers, Cycling UK before the Chair John Morgan gave a rousing defence of the path network.
The decimation of funding at local authority level has hit access and prompts some new roles for LAFs in mitigating the effects. There is a case for advising the Welsh Government not to implement the 2026 cut-off for applying for unclaimed routes – a panic will increase the back-log of claims. Should we be extinguishing paths which are not used (and not maintained)? These unused paths have no cost. We do not know what network might be revived in the future: for example, the Active Travel Act could bring routes into use after many years without use.
It was time to go, through the showground and back down the A470.