Closure Rationale in relation to The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020
In response to queries the Authority is receiving regarding the closures it has introduced as part of the national effort which is underway to tackle the spread of coronavirus this statement seeks to explain the rationale behind the closures which have been introduced.
We have sought to close those locations (mountain summits, ridges, picturesque parts of the Park) which serve as attractants to visitors along with the principal routes by which these locations are accessed, together with the main car parks which serve them. The aim has been to get the message across that we are closed to visitors and that people should not be using their cars to enjoy a walk in the countryside. While the same rationale has been applied in each of the 3 Welsh National Parks its expression on the ground is different because of our differing geographies. In the Brecon Beacons, the reason that the areas which are closed are quite large is that many of the attractants are also CROW Access land and common land. We cannot easily regulate or restrict access to some parts and not others by their very open nature (we cannot fence sections off for example). We cannot also easily distinguish between local residents and visitors or anticipate demand at particular locations on particular days.
Most of our lowland ROW network remains open for local use and experience to date is that this is not leading to problems of congestion or people unable to avoid the 2m distancing rule. Indeed residents appear to be adjusting well to using routes they might not normally use. This approach is entirely consistent with the unofficial but sensible comments from Government that for most people a walk of about an hour from your doorstep is reasonable and sufficient daily exercise. We are all having to curtail our normal recreational activities and we should all be doing our bit to support the movement restrictions which are in force.
The objective of government is to prevent the spread of the virus from household to household and at this stage we consider it to be too early to consider any relaxations of the closures now in force. In light of revised regulations being issued last week and as a result of clear guidance being issued by the Canal & River Trust we have kept the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal Towpath open for limited use only.
We are assessing the closures on a weekly basis but plan to formally review them at the first review point (April 15th) in consultation with Welsh Government. We would welcome representations from local residents regarding any particular difficulties the current closures are causing in terms of being able to undertake reasonable daily exercise from home.
As a National Park Authority charged with promoting the conservation and enjoyment of our designated landscape we have not taken the decision to close the areas we have lightly. The have been subjected to an internal review process across the Authority and arrived at following due consideration of the regulations and their objectives.
In establishing this rationale we are having to take into account the following:
- The situation is grave and the number of deaths being recorded daily in the UK continues to rise at an alarming rate. In this context the need to regulate where people might seek to take exercise is important.
- The science underpinning the guidance is continually evolving (there is now evidence for example that maintaining social distancing of 2m may not be sufficient).
- As a public sector organisation we have a job to do in a national emergency.
- The need to keep most of the PRoW network open for essential use by local residents.
- We are having to balance calls for the closures to be relaxed alongside calls for there to be tighter restrictions.
- Making vehicle journeys for exercise can only be considered to be non-essential travel.
- Access into upland areas is usually achieved by driving to a start point in the countryside from locations either inside or outside the National Park and these car parking points are likely to result in gatherings of more than two people which cannot be controlled without closures.
- We are taking local communities’ interests as a whole into account because it’s the local communities that are put at risk by people visiting hotspots.
- Cafes, pubs, restaurants, leisure centres etc. are closed and these closures have been accepted. Access to the countryside is no different.
- The Park is here for everyone and it is being managed on behalf of everyone.
Our observations to date are that the regulations are working; the hotspots are quiet. There are very few people anywhere on the Canal, which remains open, or around Brecon for example (the most densely populated area). These observations as well as community feedback are demonstrating that people can adjust.