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Engagement meeting on open access held

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Controversial Welsh Government proposals to consider extending access to the countryside in Wales are not being given enough coverage say Welsh Conservatives.

The Welsh Government announced a review of existing legislation governing access to the countryside over the summer with a consultation due to be launched in December 2013.

Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Antoinette Sandbach AM, is urging those affected to have their say.

The Welsh Government’s review will be open to the public for consultation in December 2013.

It will focus on increasing access to the outdoors, improving our extensive public path network and increasing the amount of land available for allotments and community gardening.

Welsh Conservatives have launched a series of public engagement forums throughout Wales to assess public appetite for change and to ensure that all groups are given a fair chance to voice their concerns.

The first event took place today in Denbigh and included attendees from the Countryside Alliance, the CLA, the Angling Trust, Canoe Wales, Snowdonia National Park, the British Mountaineering council, Natural Resources Wales and the NFU.

Antoinette Sandbach AM, Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, said, "I have strong concerns that not enough light is being shed on what is being proposed here by the Welsh Government and it is vital that all interested parties take part in the consultation in December.

"The countryside is one of the most valuable assets we have in Wales and we all want to enjoy, protect and value our rural areas. No-one can deny the numerous benefits of outdoor recreation, but I do not accept the premise that everyone should be entitled to access all parts of the countryside; private property is still private property, wherever it is.

"Wales already offers more than adequate access to the countryside and a cynical observer might say that this is just a political move from the Welsh Government against rural communities in Wales to satisfy a minority of interests."

"Our engagement forum suggested there is no demand for unfettered access to the countryside so it is somewhat confusing why the Labour Minister has it on the table.

"What we need is to improve management of existing granted access and encourage education about the countryside so it is treated with the utmost respect."

Andrew RT Davies AM, Leader of the Opposition, said, "Access to the countryside is a hugely emotive issue and strong opinions tend to dominate the discussion.

"Whilst debate is important arguments about access to land all too often become bogged down in disputes over ancient property laws and ideological arguments about access rights.

"Whilst this is important, it draws the discussion away from practical points on serious issues such as ecological consequences and health and safety concerns.

"The Welsh Government must think very carefully before seeking to amend existing access laws and provide solid and quantifiable evidence that both the need and demand for such reform is there."

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