Thursday, 20 June 2013

Questions (158)

Sandra McLellan

Question:

158. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the establishment of an access to the countryside advisory council and the appointment or designation of county council officials as access officers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29911/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Comhairle na Tuaithe (The Countryside Council) was established in 2004 with a primary focus on the priority areas of:

- access to the countryside,

- developing a countryside code and

- developing a countryside recreation strategy.

Comhairle na Tuaithe comprises representatives of the farming organisations, recreational users of the countryside and state bodies with an interest in the countryside. From this the National Countryside Recreation Strategy was published in 2006 and “Leave No Trace” has recently been established as the prevailing code for recreational users of the countryside.

Comhairle na Tuaithe has provided a valuable forum bringing key stakeholders together building trust and co-operation. Access to the countryside for recreational users has proven to be an on-going problem for private landowners, state landholders, recreational users and tourists alike but issues have been significantly progressed through the efforts of Comhairle na Tuaithe and the introduction of the Walks Scheme. While the organisations represented on Comhairle na Tuaithe have individual views on many of the issues to be progressed, the National Countryside Recreation Strategy reflects the consensus view of its members.

Meetings are chaired by my Department. The group meets regularly to discuss and progress matters relating to rural recreation and activity tourism. My Department also sit on the National Trails Advisory Committee which oversees best practice in relation to trail planning and development.

Through Service Level Agreements between my Department and Local Development Companies, Rural Recreational Officers are employed to raise awareness of the walking and activity/recreation product, and to facilitate tourism and marketing initiatives, and they have negotiated and managed Walks Scheme maintenance contracts with over 1800 landowners, all on a permissive access basis. Work has recently commenced on renewing these maintenance contracts for a further five year period. The Rural Recreation Officers now represent a unique resource locally for providing best practice in trail maintenance, management, marketing and the development of a broad range of rural recreation and activity tourism products.

In light of the committees already in place and the very significant level of progress made through Comhairle na Tuaithe I feel that the establishment of an Access to the Countryside Advisory Council and the appointment or designation of county council officials as access officers is not warranted. There are approximately 620 trails throughout the country listed on the Irish trails website which are all based on permissive access.