The Countryside Alliance, a lobbying organisation that claims to 'represent the interests of country people' has urged its members to respond negatively to a Welsh Government Consultation to improve access to the countryside for a number of user groups, including cyclists.
We've previously reported on the consultation, which aimed to improve access to the Welsh Rights of Way network, including allowing cycling on footpaths. It was met with an overwhelmingly positive response, with over 4,000 of the total 5,796 responses backing Cycling UK and Open MTBs 'Trails for Wales' campaign.
At present, only 21% of the network is legally accessible to cyclists and the Welsh Government is now hoping “To enable cycling and horse riding on footpaths to occur under the same conditions as those provided for cycling on bridleways under section 30 of the Countryside Act 1968.”
The Countryside Alliance, which also campaigns for the repeal of the Hunting Act and the legalisation of fox hunting with hounds, has urged its members to come out against these measures, saying:
"Whilst more access for horse riding and cycling is needed, we feel that this should not be a general right but should be negotiated at a local level on a case by case basis. This would reduce conflict not only between users but reduce negative economic impacts on land managers and protect infrastructure from damage. There are also serious the health and safety concerns for all users with a general right."
Similar increased access policies were introduced in Scotland through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and have significantly benefited the Scottish economy. A Transform Scotland report estimated off road and leisure cycle tourism contribute between £236.2m and £358m per year.
There is little hard evidence that cycling causes any more damage to trails than walking, while Cycling UK is welcoming proposals for the development of a statutory code for access to the outdoors to reduce user conflicts.