New law for better cycle paths in Wales

The NCN8 near Caernarfon alongside a major road
The Welsh Government has proposed a new law placing a duty on local authorities to map the walking and cycling routes in their area and make a plan and budget to improve them. Wales is being touted as the first country for such law to be introduced.

The Welsh Government's proposals have been brought before the Welsh Assembly as the Active Travel Bill Wales 2013, following a consultation in 2012. 

It's a highly ambitious set of proposals which will force local authorities to identify, map out and improve the walking and cycling networks in their area.

For several years Sustrans Cymru argued for such legislation, pushing a draft version through several sessions of the Welsh Assembly. CTC's view has always been that such a proposal would be very valuable, but only if the routes created were of sufficiently high quality.

A new set of guidance for providing high quality routes is being prepared, with a clause inserted in the Bill giving this guidance a stronger, statutory role. CTC is on the steering group which oversees the creation of the new guidance. 

This Bill is starting a long term programme to continually improve the provision for walking and cycling."

Carl Sergeant AM, Minister for Local Government and Communities

During the consultation,  the Welsh Government had suggested changing the law around footpaths, arguing that "many of the footpaths regularly used by walkers, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas are of a quality and type which would allow cyclists to use them safely."

The bureaucratic and all but useless Cycle Tracks Act - which CTC has lobbied to simplify - is one of the main barriers to the introduction of useful facilities on existing footpaths (note - this does not mean footways alongside roads).

Changing legislation in this area would be an excellent move and one which CTC has long been pushing for - many footpaths are better for cycling than some bridleways, yet changing designation to bridleway or cycle track is under the current regime very difficult.

However, there is nothing in the draft Bill which suggests that this aspect of the original consultation will be implemented.

One of CTC's campaigners in North Wales, Roy Spilsbury, welcomed the Bill, noting that  "for the past six years Conwy Council have vigorously opposed cycling access along Llandudno’s north shore promenade despite it being self evident that the parallel road is too hazardous for other than the most experienced riders." Although Roy has finally persuaded the Council to allow a trial of cycling on Llandudno Prom, this new duty will make future battles much easier.

Overall the Bill has been extremely well thought out and proposes some measures which are likely to be hugely beneficial. However, some questions remain - how will Councils respond to this duty and what resources will they have to implement its bold ambitions?