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National Park chief casts doubt over call for charge to climb Snowdon

PLANS to implement a specific charge on visitors to climb yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) look set to fail.

In a meeting last October, Gwynedd Council backed calls for such mitigation amid fears that the county is suffering from “over tourism.”

Cllr Glyn Daniels, a Llais Gwynedd councillor, had presented the motion amid claims that the area isn’t benefiting as it should from such natural assets, with members overwhelmingly backing an “opening of the debate.”

His claims were reinforced by a recent Gwynedd Council report which found that that the level of wages within tourism is “very low in Gwynedd compared with other sectors and other areas”.

This is despite the sector, pre-pandemic contributing over £1.35 billion to the local economy with 7.81 million annual visitors said to help employ over 18,200 people.

Describing Covid-19 as “highlighting some matters that require attention,” the council commissioned report noted a lack of variety in the county’s rural economy, with an “over dependency on tourism in some areas” and substantial pressures on the “main honey pots” such as Snowdon.

But with Wales’ highest peak attracting more than 500,000 visitors every year, it was pointed out that even a modest £2 charge to climb it would generate £1 million a year.

The park authority itself has already cast doubt on such proposals, claiming that a change in the law would be required, with national parks not holding tax raising powers.

But Cllr Daniels had asked members to work with the Snowdonia National Park Authority to explore a “considerable fee” on visitors to the park, arguing it would be “advantageous in more than one way,” boosting coffers with “also room to believe” it would reduce excess cars “causing traffic jams and hazards.”

But in a formal response to Gwynedd Council, the chief executive of the National Park, Emyr Williams, said “attempting to set tariffs would raise a number of points”.

While acknowledging ongoing talks over a more general tourist tax, he pointed out that the current points of access to Snowdon are based on six public rights of way, open access land and access agreements.

He noted: “Setting any kind of ‘charging system’ for access on Snowdon would set a precedent for Public Rights of Way and would be contrary to the ethos of the Highways Act.

“This would undoubtedly be subject to significant and severe legal challenge at a national level. This is arguably contrary to the ethos of the National Parks Act and all the legislation that has been in place since the Second World War.”

Noting that any charging would also raise practical questions over who should benefit, such as the landowners, tenants, the park or the communities itself, Mr Williams added that implementing any such access regulations would be “very difficult.”

Writing that gates and physical barriers on the ground could be “complicated and expensive to set up,” invisible boundaries with an online payment system would mean “lower costs to set up but difficult to manage.”

“Any option of implementation would require an element of enforcement and control. In order to do this a staff resource would be required on the ground,” Mr Williams added.

“This would have to result in the creation of a specific role as the role of council staff and Authority Wardens at present focuses on developing the relationship we have with the public, landowners and partners rather than enforcement.”

But with Gwynedd Council having commissioned a report looking at how the area can benefit more from tourism – which included input from the national park – one of the findings was that one of the most sustainable long-term revenue-generating solutions could involve a more general tourism tax.

Although such a levy would require the Welsh Government to introduce new legislation, Gwynedd Council has been lobbying ministers to allow the charging of a modest “tourism tax” on overnight visitors to help mitigate the “tourism imbalance.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The work to explore a potential tourism levy was paused due to the pandemic.

“We will resume engagement with the tourism sector and our partners in local government, and our focus will continue to be on supporting the tourism sector in its recovery.”

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