So said Tegryn Jones, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Officer, who was the after-dinner speaker at Ramblers Cymru’s Council meeting at Stackpole last month.
It was a good message for the Ramblers. We are at the heart of enabling people to walk and are in a strong position to influence policy on access. We lobby to keep paths open, we fight damaging path-changes, we press for more freedom to roam and we do practical work to reopen and improve paths.
In Wales there is a more positive atmosphere for all of this than in England, because of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
This act has seven goals: a prosperous Wales, a resilient Wales, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities, a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language, and a globally-responsible Wales. Paths and access are deeply relevant to most of these.
The act requires a Public Services Board to be established in every local authority area; the board must produce a local Well-being Plan to deliver the seven goals. Since public paths, open spaces and public access are highly relevant to their delivery and the local authority is represented on the Public Services Board, councillors can have a direct input, to argue for more money for access.
Today (4 May) there are elections for the unitary authorities (which are also the highway and access authorities) throughout Wales. When the dust has settled, it is well worth writing to councillors to ask them to ensure that the protection and promotion of public paths and open spaces feature in the council’s forthcoming Well-being Plan as important contributors to the achievement of the well-being goals.
Of course, they should also press for adequate funding to maintain the public-path network in accordance with the council’s statutory duties. All this should chime with the Welsh government which wants its act to be implemented to the benefit of Wales’s residents and visitors.
Big Welsh Walk
This Saturday Ramblers Cymru is holding the Big Welsh Walk at the Tynrhyd Centre, Devil’s Bridge near Aberystwyth, with walks of two, six, ten and fifteen miles. A number of Assembly Members are expected to come, and I shall be there to enjoy the splendid countryside and to walk with them.
In anticipation of the event, Ceredigion Council and Ramblers’ volunteers have worked incredibly hard to get the paths in good order, demonstrating that a good path-network benefits tourism and the local economy.
The Big Welsh Walk is an excellent way of demonstrating the power of walking. We underestimate it at our peril.