Alun Davies, Minister for Natural Resources and Food
The Commons Act 2006 was introduced to remedy many of the deficiencies of earlier legislation, to protect common land and to promote sustainable farming, public access to the countryside and the interests of wildlife.
The area of common land in Wales amounts to some 175,000 hectares or 8.5% of the total land area and common land is important to and predominately used for agricultural purposes. In addition, common land is also valued for its contribution to the natural and national heritage of Wales, especially nature and habitat conservation, with 40% being designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 50% within the protected landscape of Wales.
Fundamental to the on-going implementation of the Commons Act in Wales is the need for a decision on whether to improve the current paper based registration system established in the 1960’s or to introduce electronic registers.
I have concluded that the best approach is to introduce Electronic Registers of Common Land representing an investment of some £5m over 8 years. My decision and this approach will deliver significant benefits in respect of the management of Welsh commons and will establish a national system that is consistent and accessible 24 hours a day. The instant access to the legal record of common land will benefit commoners and commons associations in the management of commons. The new electronic registers will also introduce efficiency benefits for local authorities in processing applications to alter the register and for Welsh Government in terms of Glastir, CAP reform and responding to any disease outbreak which affects animals on common land.
As I have recently announced significant investment to support the agricultural industry in Wales, including through measures such as EIDCymru and CPH reform, I have decided to phase implementation of electronic registers although work on implementing other aspects of the Commons Act will continue apace.
Work will start on Electronic Registers of Common Land in April 2015, by which time EIDCymru will have been established, and will be completed by the end of 2017. This will allow the efficient use of resources whilst phasing project implementation during a period of significant change for the industry.
The electronic system will replace the current large paper legers and maps held by local authorities making the records easily accessible online and providing a significantly improved basis of which to record updates to the area of common land and the rights over common land.
My decision represents a significant investment by the Welsh Government that will benefit commoners and the natural heritage of Wales. It will help to simplify the current system, establish a consistent approach across Wales and improve access to records in line with our Working Smarter objectives.