Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report


2  Background to the proposals

History

8.  Two main existing pieces of legislation are relevant to coastal access in England: the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 ('the 1949 Act') and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 ('the CROW Act').
1. National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 ("the 1949 Act")

The 1949 Act allowed the creation of:

(i) long-distance routes, now known as "national trails"—these are usually extensive journeys that can be made on foot or horseback, and include the South West Coast Path and the Norfolk Coast Path;

(ii) access agreements/orders for open country—on land which included the foreshore and coast. Very few access agreements were made under the 1949 Act, which was one of the motivations for the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act.

2. Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 ("the CROW Act")

The CROW Act 2000 created the right of access on mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common. There were difficulties with implementing the Act in certain areas but, in general, less conflict occurred between the interests of users, landowners and wildlife than had been expected. The CROW Act also provided the right of access to the coast at a later date by a section 3 Order.

The Government's vision

9.  70% of the English coast is currently available for access, although this is highly fragmented with around 1000 points around the coast where access (by foot) is interrupted. 30% of the coast has no known legal or other recognised access at all.[3] A commitment to improve coastal access was included in the Defra Five Year Strategy in December 2004.[4] In addition, the Labour Party made an election manifesto commitment in April 2005 that "improving access to coastal areas will be an early priority for a Labour third term".[5] Subsequently, the Government developed its vision as follows:

A coastal environment where rights to walk along the length of the English coast lie within a wildlife and landscape corridor that offers enjoyment, understanding of the natural environment and a high quality experience; and is managed sustainably in the context of a changing coastline.[6]

Defra says that improving access will "give people the confidence and certainty that wherever they arrive at the coast there will be clear, well managed access in either direction, and they would be able to enjoy a rich and varied natural environment".[7]

10.  In July 2005, Ministers proposed that action to improve coastal access should be an early "flagship" initiative for Natural England, helping to demonstrate how access, landscape and wildlife benefits can be integrated in a positive and practical way.[8]

Consideration of options

NATURAL ENGLAND'S ADVICE TO GOVERNMENT

11.  In February 2007, Natural England submitted a report to Government which looked at a number of options for achieving coastal access in England.[9] The study found:

  • in 2005 there were 72 million visits to the coast (outside seaside towns) generating £1.4 billion spend and going for a walk was more popular than visiting the beach;[10]
  • half of the English public said they did not visit the coast frequently but would like to visit more (based on research undertaken by Ipsos MORI in 2006);[11]
  • access to the countryside brought health and well-being benefits;[12]
  • the South West Coast Path had a positive impact on the local economy (£300 million per annum, Natural England said in evidence).[13]

12.  Natural England considered four different policy options to achieve coastal access:

  • create a national trail by public rights of way (that is, negotiating public path creation agreements under the Highways Act 1980 with relevant landowners);
  • use the CROW Act to create open access (through a s3 Order);
  • voluntary approach to create permissive access, for example through agri-environment schemes; and
  • new legislation.[14]

Natural England recommended to Government that new legislation would be necessary to meet the Government's aims. New legislation should "combine the best features of existing mechanisms" in enabling the creation of both a coastal route and accompanying access land for "spreading room" (an accessible margin of land which may lie on either side of the trail).[15] New legislation would also give Natural England the "necessary flexibility to take account of circumstances on each stretch of the coast", such as re-alignment of the route at a later date in the case of coastal erosion. None of the other three policy options, Natural England said, could "deliver the Government's vision, create the right mix of national momentum with local delivery and design, and future proof coastal access against coastal change".[16]

DEFRA'S CONSULTATION AND APPRAISAL OF OPTIONS

13.  Following Natural England's advice, Defra undertook a formal consultation on the four policy options considered by Natural England.[17] The Department published a summary of the 749 responses in December 2007.[18] The majority of respondents to the consultation agreed with Natural England's assessment that new legislation was necessary to achieve the Government's vision and that existing mechanisms had disadvantages.[19] In September 2007, the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, announced that the Government intended to legislate so that the public would have the right to walk around the English coast for the first time.[20] This new legislation will be introduced through Part 9 of the Marine Bill.

What Part 9 of the Bill does

14.  The coastal access provisions in Part 9 of the Draft Marine Bill would place a duty on the Secretary of State and Natural England to secure a long distance route ("the English coastal route") and nearby land available for open-air recreation ("spreading room"), together referred to as "coastal margin".[21] Within this margin people will be able to walk along the length of the English coast, and in addition will have access to suitable coastal land such as beaches, cliffs, rocks and dunes, for open-air recreation on foot. Defra estimates that the proposals would add 2,300 km (range from 2,050 to 2,560 km) of new or improved access, and would increase visits to the coast by 6-10%.[22]

15.  Under the proposals, Natural England would be required to consult owners and occupiers, local authorities, local access forums, the Secretary of State (in relation to defence and national security), the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission and the Environment Agency, to decide the most appropriate alignment of the trail and the extent of spreading room.[23] Natural England would then report the route to the Secretary of State stretch by stretch (the size of area has not been determined, but could possibly be at county level).[24] Certain classes of land are excepted altogether from the route and spreading room, including ports, Ministry of Defence land, and parks and gardens.[25] Natural England was unable to give us precise figures as to how much land would be excepted, and what difference this would make to the completed coastal pathway.

16.  The draft Bill states that Natural England must prepare a scheme (referred to as the "Coastal Access Scheme") within one year to set out the general approach it will take when carrying out its coastal access duty. The Coastal Access Scheme would have to be developed in consultation with interested parties and submitted to the Secretary of State for approval, rejection or modification.[26] Natural England published a 21-page "Outline Scheme" in April 2008 alongside the publication of the Draft Bill. The Outline Scheme set out some of the key principles on which Natural England proposes alignment should be based (for example, safety and enjoyment and protection of the coastal environment), and how principles will be applied in certain coastal scenarios, such as land subject to coastal erosion. Natural England told us the Outline Scheme was "a pretty full first stab", and that the final Coastal Access Scheme would not be drastically different.[27]



3   The average length of these 'no known' access sections is 1.5 miles, and the maximum length without any known access is almost 23 miles. Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007, pp 27-28. Back

4   Defra, Delivering the Essentials of Life: Defra's Five Year Strategy, Cm 6411, December 2004, p 12. Back

5   Draft Marine Bill [Policy Paper], Cm 7351, April 2008, p 55 Back

6   IbidBack

7   "Access to the Coast: Frequently Asked Questions", Defra website, 30 June 2008, www.defra.gov.uk Back

8   Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007, p i. Back

9   Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007. Back

10   Based on research by the England Leisure Visits Survey 2005. Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007, p 11. Back

11   Ibid. Although, in evidence, the Country Land and Business Association and National Farmers' Union pointed out that the Ipsos MORI survey also found that "the majority are happy with the existing access they have to the coast" and "overall, there appears to be good access to the coast" [Ev 27, para 2.5; Ev 34, para 8]. Back

12   Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007, p 96.  Back

13   Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007, p 65. Q 2 Back

14   Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007, p 98. Back

15   Definition of spreading room in Natural England, Coastal access: Natural England's outline scheme, April 2008, p 2. Back

16   Natural England, Improving Coastal Access: Our Advice to Government, February 2007, p iv. Back

17   Defra, Consultation on Proposals to improve access to the English coast, June 2007. Back

18   Defra, Summary of responses to the consultation on proposals to improve access to the English coast, December 2007. Back

19   Defra, Summary of responses to the consultation on proposals to improve access to the English coast, December 2007, pp 2-4. Back

20   See Defra, Draft Marine Bill: overview of part 9, Coastal Access, para 9. Back

21   Draft Marine Bill, April 2008, clause 272 (2-3) Back

22   Defra, Draft Marine Bill [Impact Assessment], April 2008, p 108 Back

23   Draft Marine Bill, April 2008, clause 277 [55B (4)]; Ev 106-107 [Defra], para 4. Back

24   Draft Marine Bill, April 2008, clause 277 [55C] Back

25   See Defra, Draft Marine Bill: overview of part 9, Coastal Access, April 2008, Annex. Back

26   Draft Marine Bill, April 2008, clause 274 Back

27   Q 8 Back


 
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