Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report

7  Parks and gardens

54.  The Government proposes that parks and gardens be treated as excepted land, as they are under the CROW Act. This means that there would be no power to align the trail across them or to include them in the spreading room.[85]

55.  Natural England told the Committee that it disagreed with Government that all parks and gardens should automatically be treated as excepted land.[86] It said there were about 5,000 parks and gardens on the English coast (as an indicative figure), some of them extensive.[87] There was no precision as to what constituted a garden or a park. The term 'park' was often used to describe the whole of the land held in hand around a country house, regardless of its land cover and usage— it might be used for arable crops rather than just being pasture land with specimen trees. In some cases the category could include historic parkland even without a house. The exclusion of parks and gardens, it said, would mean that:

Natural England's capacity to make sense of the alignment of the coastal trail in all the circumstances on a particular section of coast would be significantly impaired. This could mean that the public benefits of the project would be substantially reduced, and that some of the most long-standing and well-documented obstructions to access along the coast itself would remain unresolved.[88]

56.  In oral evidence Natural England explained further:

… the effect of treating parks and gardens as exempted land is effectively that it ties one hand behind Natural England's back, because whatever the commonsense approach might be, it will not be able to engage with anything that falls within one of those descriptions. […] It takes away the very flexibility that the legislation is intended to create for Natural England.[89]

57.  Although it is not proposing parks or gardens should become open access land, Natural England believes "there is a good case to be made for a power to align a 'way through' such areas in cases where Natural England considers this is necessary and meets the other criteria set out in the draft Bill", by creating a 4-metre wide trail but not spreading room—similar to the Government's proposals for cropped land and golf courses.[90] Natural England's final Coastal Access Scheme would then need to "set out in some considerable detail the approach Natural England will take if it did engage with a park or garden".[91]

58.  The day after the evidence session with Natural England, the CLA issued a very critical press release saying it was "astonishing" that "up to 5,000 gardens and parks could be hit".[92] The President of the CLA told us that:

Originally, as I understood it, Natural England were happy to except parks and gardens, and when they gave you evidence they came up with a different view. I assume they have changed their minds because they have identified areas where they think it would be quite difficult to get a corridor through because there is a business or private property or whatever in the way. Again, that is where you need to look very closely at each particular area on the coast to see if you can find another way through without charging through the back of somebody's garden, reducing the value of that property or whatever. It seems to me very Draconian to do it that way.[93]

59.  The Ramblers' Association, however, told the Committee it supported Natural England's proposed change:

We feel that parks and gardens should not be excepted land. The trail should be able to go through them where that is the most sensible solution, given all the circumstances, and that certainly does not mean invading anybody's privacy, but it is just that, if you had to avoid every park and garden, it could mean the route had to go inland a long way, it might have to go closer to somebody else's property and it just would not be the most sensible solution.[94]

60.  Devon County Council told us it was experiencing particular difficulties filling two "gaps" of the South West Coast Path which fell under the category of "garden".[95] It suggested to us that the criteria for defining parks and gardens be developed to take account of factors such as:

  • visibility and distance from residence
  • use of the land at the date of publication of the draft Bill as either formal gardens i.e. lawns, flower beds, herbaceous borders, or for the growing of vegetables
  • effective screening of path by timber fencing or hedging—expensive options such as masonry walls and earth banks may need to be excluded.

It also believed that land recorded on the Rural Land Register should not be regarded as garden.[96]

61.  The Minister reiterated to us Defra's policy that parks and gardens would remain excepted land:

I foresee a great deal of conflict, I foresee a great deal of uncertainty, and I think it would take up a great deal of the time and effort of Natural England if parks and gardens were not excepted. That is my judgement. I understand that there will be others who say that we should have ploughed on and not made parks and gardens an exception.[97]

When I went to the south west, I saw a number of examples of gardens of different sizes that would make it very difficult to make a judgment call as to where you would have the definition. When it is a fine judgment call, there will be winners and losers. That is an equation for more tension, hostility and all of that weighed heavily on my mind in coming up with the decision that I have taken.[98]

62.  He added that it was also possible for landowners to dedicate routes through parks and gardens as permissive rights of way, and that he hoped that that would be done more in the future.[99]

Our views

63.  Natural England's concerns about the exception of parks and gardens from the scheme are understandable from its own point of view. Sometimes the exception will mean that the trail will have to skirt property and move away from the coast. But any alternative to the Government's policy would not be publicly acceptable and would be a recipe for worry, confusion and conflict. Although Natural England assures us that it would not put a trail through ordinary back gardens,[100] not excepting parks and gardens as a category would expose many people to the fear that their own privacy would be affected by a trail passing through their garden. We agree with the Government that parks and gardens should be excepted land under the coastal access proposals. Nevertheless, Natural England may attempt to negotiate voluntary access agreements with landowners of parks and gardens if this produces the most appropriate alignment.

85   Defra, Coastal access: proposed order under section 3A of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, para 6 Back

86   Ev 3, para 26 Back

87   Ev 22 Back

88   Ev 4, para 28 Back

89   Qq 13, 24 Back

90   Ev 4, para 29 Back

91   Q 37 Back

92   "CLA attacks Natural England plan to traipse over private gardens in coastal access shock", CLA press release, 5 June 2008 Back

93   Q 115 Back

94   Q 227 Back

95   Q 317 Back

96   Ev 103 Back

97   Q 441 Back

98   Q 444 Back

99   Qq 442, 445-6 Back

100   Qq 23, 29 Back

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