Some projects are just too ambitious – and too important – for their component parts to be delegated.
The Wales Coast Path is a point in case.
For reasons that have always eluded me, the Welsh Government (of which I’m a firm supporter) decided to delegate responsibility for developing individual sections of the coast path to sixteen local unitary authorities. (For accuracy’s sake, I should add that additional partners included the former Countryside Council for Wales and two National Parks.)
Now I like to think I know a little about local authorities in Wales, having worked for four of them and spent two years as the representative for the Welsh ‘region’ of a UK professional association.
And the lesson I learned over the years is that no two local authorities operate in the same way, not even in this small country with a population of just three million. There are demographic differences, economic differences, structural differences and, most important in terms of decision-making, political differences.
Having gone from a daily newspaper when a deadline actually meant something (and woe betide any reporter who missed one!) straight to a local government communication role, it took me a long time to realise that public sector timescales were just words and numbers on paper, nothing more. No-one took them seriously.
But it was the inability to get a decision made (and stuck to) that really used to get to me.
Anyone who has worked as a council officer will know how hard it is to get consensus for anything within a council; when you start adding partners, then… well I won’t go into the whole painful shenanigans of ‘partnership working’ but suffice to say it once took me a whole year to get the go-ahead on the wording for five A5 leaflets (and most of the text was repeated on each). Torturous times and I’m relieved they’re over… in my working life at least.
You will understand then, why Harri and I were more than a little concerned that local councils were being charged with developing their own stretch of the coast path, ensuring that its own length was accessible, walkable and signposted.
Some have seized the challenge and created mile after mile of wonderful coastal paths; others… well maybe that council has other things on its mind… like libel cases against bloggers. Other councils, like our own here in Newport, and neighbouring Cardiff, have the biggest challenge of all… creating a scenic and continuous path through industrial areas, docklands and sewage outlets, and in Cardiff’s case, the sprawling council tip. (Cardiff blogger Dic Mortimer has written a great post about the Cardiff stretch of the Wales Coast Path – I’d like to say it’s all lies but, having walked this stretch ourselves, I’m afraid he’s absolutely spot on).
But that’s enough negativity from me. The good news is that some councils have completely embraced the ethos of a magnificent, scenic coastal path running the entire length of Wales and Ceredigion is one of them.
What can I say? Those who were involved in developing the Ceredigion section of the Wales Coast Path just ‘get’ what walking in the great outdoors is all about. Perhaps it’s the county’s proximity to the much better-known Pembrokeshire is the reason it tries so hard, but if I was handing out prizes for fantastic coastal walking, Ceredigion would definitely be there in the running.
‘The route is an adventure’ claims Liz Allan, in the introduction to her 2006 book, Walking the Cardigan Bay Coast. ‘A challenge in parts, and easy as pie in others’.
Fortunately, the coast path we walked was challenging for all the right reasons: steep climbs, steps, stiles and the occasional light rain.
That Ceredigion wants to attract walkers – both serious hikers and holidaymakers who’ll cover no more than four or five miles in a day – is evident everywhere from the provision of the wonderfully poetic sounding Cardi Bach (the friendly local bus service which operates from New Quay to Cardigan) to the solidly constructed wooden bridges and widening of the existing path so that hikers can walk alongside one another and (a big one this) enjoy extensive sea views. Pembrokeshire aside, it’s the most magnificent section of the Wales Coast Path we’ve walked to date and a real flagship for Wales tourism.
Ceredigion’s scenery is quite spectacular and not unlike north Pembrokeshire with its dramatic cliffs and picturesque coves. With almost uninterrupted views across the Irish Sea, you’ve also got a very real feeling of being on the edge of the world.
There are wild horses, sheep, jutting peninsulas, high cliffs, pebble beaches, fishing boats, bottlenose dolphins, seals, Edwardian houses, restaurants, beaches, friendly pubs, lots of Dylan Thomas connections (the reason for our own visit was researching and walking routes for our forthcoming ebook: Dylan Welsh Walks, of which I will divulge more in a future post). What more could any serious hiker ask for?
Nature provides some of us with a little more to work with than others, but it’s what you do with what you’ve got that really counts. For once, I have to admit, a local council understands what people want and has done everything within its power to provide it.
And from the public sector weary Walker’s Wife, that’s praise indeed.