The Government proposes to legislate to give people right of access on foot all around the English coast. It wants to create a long distance route with areas of "spreading room" for recreation. We accept the case for encouraging greater coastal access. However, the draft legislation requires amendment and modification before we can be satisfied it is sensible and fair.
We are uneasy that the Bill places so much emphasis on simply trusting Natural England to "get it right" in terms of determining the alignment of the route and extent of spreading room. We believe landowners and occupiers, in particular, are entitled to more concrete safeguardsespecially as the Government intends to strike a "fair balance" between public and private interests. Adoption of the recommendations we make in this Report would provide some safeguards.
The lack of a formal appeal process is a fundamental weakness of the Bill. We consider the right of landowners and occupiers to have an independent, third-party appeal process to be an important element of the fair balance between public and private interests that the Government is aiming to achieve. The Bill should provide for such a process. The Bill should also give Natural England the power to offer compensation to owners and occupiers who can demonstrate financial loss as a result of the coastal access provisions where such compensation is necessary to achieve the fair balance between public and private interests that the Bill requires. We agree with the Government that parks and gardens should be excepted land under the proposals.
We are still to be convinced that £5 million a year for 10 years is enough to create access land all around England. If Natural England has got its sums wrong, either the trail will not be completed or some other area of Natural England's work have to be abandoned or delayed. The Government should also clarify responsibility for long-term maintenance before the Bill is introduced.
Many of the concerns expressed about these proposals seem to stem from a fear of the unknown about how Natural England will implement the policy on the ground. Whilst we acknowledge that Natural England will require some flexibility because every stretch of the coast is different, we believe that the more detail Natural England can provide early on about how it intends to implement the policy in common coastal scenarios, the less such concerns will be expressed. Natural England should therefore produce a detailed draft of its Scheme before Parliament starts to consider the Bill. Natural England should have a statutory duty written into the Bill to conduct a review of the lessons it has learned from early implementation of the proposals. We recommend this review take place one year after establishment works have started on the ground.