Shape of the nation

27 June 2017

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, considers the effect of the increasing divergence between English and Welsh laws and practices.

The 870-mile Wales Coast Path was the ambitious legacy of Rhodri Morgan, the former first minister of Wales who died in May. Now we can walk ‘the shape of the nation’; the path has brought pleasure to thousands, and millions to the Welsh economy.

Stackpole Head, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

This path is a pioneer. As English and Welsh laws diverge, Wales has focused commendably on sustainable development and well-being. But there are worrying signs as it casts off from Westminster.

Foundations
Wales is shifting the foundations of our designated landscapes, the three national parks and five areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) which cover one quarter of the land area.

In 2014, the government appointed a panel of respected academics and practitioners, Terry Marsden, John Lloyd Jones and Ruth Williams, to undertake an independent review of these landscapes, to ensure that they are ‘best equipped to meet current and future challenges while building upon their internationally recognised status’.

The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB

A year later, after receiving much evidence, the panel made 69 recommendations—all within the framework and spirit of the founding National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The recommendations give greater strength to the purposes and duties of the parks and AONBs—‘factories of well-being’—and recognise their contribution to recreation and enjoyment.

Bizarrely, the government set up another group which, 18 months later, produced yet another report, undermining Marsden.

Brecon Beacons National Park

Despite the government’s statement of commitment to designated landscapes in the foreword there is no mention of the parks’ purposes of protecting natural beauty and promoting enjoyment, nor of the Sandford principle that conservation prevails when there is irreconcilable conflict—vital as a last resort when inappropriate tourism developments are proposed (all too likely).

The actions are woolly and jargon-ridden. Search for old-fashioned, unambiguous words which describe designated landscapes and you will be disappointed.

Invention
The 1949 act was indeed a Westminster invention but it has stood the test of time. We must persuade Welsh Assembly Members that Marsden’s recommendations are essential to secure the future of the designated landscapes for the people of Wales and beyond.

For the Welsh countryside has provided far-reaching inspiration. Rhodri Morgan contemplated the Wales Coast Path as he walked near his Ceredigion caravan. Theresa May lit on the snap election while on holiday in Snowdonia.

I know which idea is the better.

Snowdon