DISCRETION GIVEN TO NATURAL ENGLAND
25. The coastal access provisions set out in
Part 9 of the Draft Marine Bill are only a framework for how the
policy will be implemented. Natural England would be given considerable
discretion to determine, at a later date, the alignment of the
English coastal route and spreading room, albeit in accordance
with the Coastal Access Scheme's guidelines and in consultation
with "persons with a relevant interest in the land"
and other specified organisations.
Apart from the inclusion in the Bill of a duty for Natural England
and the Secretary of State to "aim to strike a fair balance
between the interests of the public in having right of access
over land and the interests of any person with a relevant interest
in the land" (a duty that some witnesses described as vague
and lacking in specificity),
very few other formal safeguards to protect landowners and occupiers
are included in the Bill. When we asked Natural England whether
landowners were simply required to trust the organisation (regarding
the possible review of previous CROW Act exclusions and restrictions),
Natural England agreed, saying that was "a good starting
point for this whole initiative".
26. We were interested to hear whether witnesses
were content with Natural England being given so much discretion
to implement the proposals, or whether the Bill could be more
prescriptive in some regards. Views were mixed. The NFU told the
Committee it had "real concerns" about the discretionary
powers given to Natural England.
It wanted further detail in the Bill to spell out exactly
how Natural England should aim to achieve a fair balance between
public and private interestsfor example, the inclusion
of a provision that "coastal businesses will suffer no significant
loss of income from the introduction of coastal access rights".
The CLA told us it was doubtful about Natural England's ability
in this area:
Natural England are not practitioners; they do not
manage land. In nature conservation they have strong knowledge
but in terms of managing land, and managing access in particular,
physically, they do not have to do it.
27. Other witnesses were more positive. The Ramblers'
Association was confident Natural England could "get it right"
provided it undertook full consultation at the local level. It
believed it necessary for Natural England to have so much flexibility
in its powers because each section of the coastline was different.
The National Trust also believed Natural England would, on the
whole, be able to implement the proposals successfully, although
the Trust was concerned Natural England could take too many decisions
"behind closed doors".
The RSPB said it was inevitable that a more flexible system would
grant Natural England greater power, although it noted that two
checks and balances were included in the proposals: the Coastal
Access Scheme and the reports Natural England had to produce for
each section of the coast, both of which were subject to consultation
and approval by the Secretary of State.
28. The Minister told us he was comfortable about
giving Natural England such powers. It already designated Sites
of Special Scientific Interest, managed areas of Outstanding Natural
Beauty, and took important decisions about the natural environment.
He believed Natural England would adopt a "commonsense approach"
in implementing the coastal access proposals.
29. As part of our visit to the north Essex coast
near Walton-on-the-Naze, we saw first-hand specific examples of
some of the complexities Natural England will face, including
agricultural land, private dwellings, factories, marinas, boat
yards, campsites, commercial premises and sporting interests.
30. Natural England will have a difficult task
in determining the alignment of the trail and spreading room,
in consultation with local interests, along the whole English
coast. We have no doubt that Natural England will do its utmost
to minimise the impacts of alignment on landowners and occupiers,
wildlife, and sites of environmental importance. Some conflict,
however, is inevitable. In light of this,
we are uneasy that the Bill places so much emphasis on simply
trusting Natural England to "get it right". 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. We believe that adoption of the recommendations we
make later in this Report would provide some safeguards.
31. It was clear from our inquiry that many of
the concerns expressed by witnesseswhether in relation
to route alignment, spreading room, habitat conservation, dog
management or otherspartly stemmed from a fear of the unknown
about how Natural England would 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. We are not convinced
that the 21-page Outline Scheme provides enough detail of this
32. We note that the Outline Scheme contains
helpful diagrams of how Natural England would realign the route
in a typical coastal erosion scenario. Natural England should
include more of these types of examples in its final Scheme. These
principles would guide Natural England during the implementation
stage and, importantly, give stakeholders a clearer idea about
the likely impact of the proposals.
33. Natural England's Scheme
should include clear explanations and diagrams about how it intends
to align the route, and determine the extent of spreading room,
for each "common" coastal scenariosuch as coastal
landowner, arable land, Site of Special Scientific Interest, and
so on. Some complex examples should be included as well. Natural
England should also produce a detailed draft of its Scheme before
the final version of the Bill is published, taking into account
some of these scenarios. This scheme should also specify the size
of each stretch of the coast on which Natural England will be
reporting, and provide further detail about what approach Natural
England will take when it intends to change the alignment of an
existing coastal path.
34. The provisions about estuaries
are very vague and leave excessive authority to Natural England.
The Bill should include a clear specification about where the
trail should cross estuaries.
35. Natural England will inevitably learn a great
deal from implementing the route and spreading room on the stretches
of the coast it concentrates on first. Natural
England should have a statutory requirement written into the Bill
to conduct a review of the lessons it has learned from early implementation
of the route and spreading room. We recommend this review take
place one year after establishment works have started on the ground.
36. After 10 years, Natural
England, or its successor, should report to Parliament about the
progress it has made with the implementation of the proposals
and when it expects work will be completed.
37. Much of the actual detail of the coastal
access proposals will not be subject to any form of parliamentary
scrutiny. Natural England's Coastal Access Scheme will undergo
consultation with key stakeholders before being finalised, and
is then submitted to the Secretary of State for approval, rejection
or modification. Defra told us it did not consider it appropriate
for the scheme to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny because
it was a "document of some generality" which "operates
at a very preliminary stage".
38. The proposed level of parliamentary
scrutiny of the real detail of these proposals is poor, especially
when compared to the powers given to the Secretary of State. We
are not convinced by the argument that the generality of Natural
England's final Scheme precludes it from being subject to parliamentary
scrutiny. This will be an important document and Members of Parliament
should be allowed to give their views about it in debate. The
Bill should provide that the Secretary of State can only approve
the Scheme after Parliament has given its approval via the affirmative
44 Draft Marine Bill, April 2008, clause 277 Back
Draft Marine Bill, April 2008, clause 273 (3). The NFU
said the statement "must be supported by adequate provision
within the Bill in order to be meaningful" (Ev 35, para 16).
The CLA told us there was "no indication within the draft
Bill or the Outline Scheme as to how the interests of the business
will, in practice, be balanced against the public interest"
(Ev 26, Executive Summary). Back
Q 67 Back
Q 104 Back
Ev 35, para 16 Back
Q 103 Back
Qq 220, 223. Back
Qq 156, 161 Back
Q 163 Back
Qq 372, 404-405 Back
Ev 104, Q 1 Back