3 Is new legislation the most appropriate
method by which to create coastal access?|
17. Most individuals and organisations submitting
evidence to our inquiry supported the principle of creating more
coastal access. There was some disagreement, however, about whether
the Government's decision to introduce new legislation to create
a coastal corridor around the whole English coast was the best
way to achieve this. The Country Land and Business Association
(CLA) said new legislation was "unnecessary" because
increased access to the coast could be delivered through existing
mechanisms, either by voluntary agri-environment schemes such
as Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) or by creating new routes through
the Highways Act 1980.
It said the South West Coast Path was "a very good example"
of using the Highways Act successfully to create coastal access,
through consensual negotiations between local authorities and
reflects a very different method from the Bill, in terms of its
voluntary nature and because compensation was often paid. The
National Farmers' Union (NFU) told us the Government's approach
was not cost-effective and lacked public support.
It also preferred the use of existing voluntary agri-environment
schemes, such as the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and HLS, as
these schemes were "a good deal for all"they
created access, improved the environment, and recompensed owners
for land lost or taken out of production.
The NFU said 578 of the 2,349 HLS agreements (about a quarter)
had included access options, 30 of which were on or adjacent to
the coast. These 30 agreements had provided 31 km of linear access
and 35 hectares of open access.
18. The Local Government Association was doubtful
about the desirability of a long-distance route around the English
coast. It said work undertaken by local authorities showed the
majority of pedestrian countryside users found easy-to-follow
short circular routes most attractive; long distance walking routes,
on the other hand, had "limited appeal".
Norfolk County Council made a similar point.
19. Other witnesses, however, supported the Government's
new legislation policy option and raised doubts about the effectiveness
of existing measures in creating coastal access. The Ramblers'
Association told us the Government's vision could never solely
be achieved by voluntary measures, which were "expensive"
and "ineffective", or by improvements to the public
path network under the Highways Act.
The RSPB said voluntary measures were "insecure"
and creating new rights of way through the Highways Act was "difficult
and inflexible in the face of sea-level rise".
Devon County Council told us it faced difficulties joining up
nine "significant gaps" in the South West Coast Pathmainly
due to issues of compensationand it welcomed the new legislation
as being "a very positive move to help us fill in these missing
gaps". The Minister
pointed out that the overwhelming majority of respondents to Defra's
consultation paper said the Government should legislate.
20. We note that Defra's own Impact Assessment
(cost-benefit analysis) of Natural England's four coastal access
policy optionsbased on a Regulatory Impact Assessment carried
out by consultants Asken Ltd in June 2007only gave the
new legislation "coastal corridor" policy option
the third highest benefit:cost ratio. Both options 1 (using
the Highways Act) and 2 (using the CROW Act) had higher benefit:cost
ratios, with option 4 (voluntary mechanisms, such as agri-environment
schemes) having the lowest.
When asked why the Government had chosen the policy option with
the third highest benefit:cost ratio, the Minister said the analysis
had not taken account of the benefits associated with spreading
room and the ability to re-align the route in the case of coastal
erosion. The CLA
pointed out to us, however, that no assessment at all had been
made about the apparent public benefits from spreading room.
Lord Montagu and Ralph Montagu, owners of the Beaulieu Estate
in the New Forest National Park, believed that Natural England
attached "too much importance to the concept of spreading
room within the framework of the legislation".
21. There are likely to be economic, health and
social benefits from more people visiting, and enjoying, the coast.
The South West Coast Path is a very good example of the benefits
increased coastal access can bring, and we hope this can be replicated
elsewhere in England. We recognise the benefits which arise from
good quality coastal access.
22. It is clear that creating coastal access
on a large scale solely through existing mechanisms would be a
lengthy process. The new legislation proposed by Government is
imaginative in its use of existing mechanisms and could be a quicker,
and more consistent, way to create access. The Government's proposals
to create "spreading room" alongside a coastal trail
would, in effect, create a linear park around the English coast.
This could provide an additional attraction to visitors. However,
the draft legislation requires amendment and modification before
we can be satisfied it is sensible and fair.
23. The evidence we received indicated a difference
of opinion as to whether there was sufficient public demand for
these proposals. The Government should take due note of this difference
24. We acknowledge that the CROW Act implementation
has demonstrated that access imposed by legislation can work and
believe this will be the most effective way of securing coastal
28 Ev 27, para 1.3 Back
Q 102 Back
The NFU said research generally showed that people preferred circular
routes when going for walks, and that Ipsos MORI polling undertaken
on behalf of Natural England showed "the majority are happy
with the existing access they have to the coast" (Ev 33-34,
paras 2, 7-8). Back
Q 105 Back
Ev 52, para 5 Back
Ev 142, para 3 Back
Ev 164, para 3 Back
Ev 74, paras 2.5, 3.4 Back
Ev 63, para 15 Back
Ev 92, para 2; Qq 311, 317. Back
Q 372 Back
Closest to final proposal. Back
Draft Marine Bill [Impact Assessment], Defra, April 2008,
pp 99, 115 Back
Q 374. Although we note that Defra judged that no change was required
to revise its Impact Assessment following Asken's work last year
(Ev 124 [Defra]). Back
Ev 29, para 6.3 Back
Ev 164 Back