Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report

8  Cost

64.  The Government's recent record in estimating the implementation costs of access legislation has not been encouraging. Implementation of the CROW Act cost £69 million against an original estimate of £28 million. Defra said the under-estimate was mainly a result of the complicated and expensive mapping procedure used for CROW: there were "difficulties of mapping access land that were hard to assess until the work commenced".[101] Such extensive mapping will not be carried out for land designated as coastal margin (we discuss mapping in more detail in paragraphs 77-81).

65.  Natural England estimates that the cost of the coastal access provisions over ten years will be £50 million—£5 million a year for 10 years.[102] This estimate was partly based on work by two independent consultants: RPA Ltd, which collected data about the average maintenance and management costs for existing national trails, and Asken Ltd, whose work for Defra identified the benefits and costs of improving access and on whom they would fall.[103] Natural England also used indicative costs for installation of infrastructure based on existing agri-environment scheme payments or on payments under the Access Management Grant Scheme.[104] About £13 million of the £50 million will be spent on field staff and support. This includes the funding of at least one full-time project officer, and other administrative staff, in each of the 48 costal access authorities.[105] It also includes £14.7 million for establishment works to facilitate new access and upgrades to existing access,[106] and about £6 million for the maintenance of the route during the ten year implementation period, and other costs.[107]

66.  Many witnesses expressed concern that the £50 million amount was not enough. The National Trust described the amount as an "absolute shoestring", which was "far too low".[108] Potential access authorities expressed concerns. The Local Government Association, Norfolk County Council, West Sussex County Council, and the Cumbria Countryside Access Partnership Board (the working partnership between Cumbria County Council and Cumbria Local Access Forum) all had doubts about whether £50 million was sufficient.[109] Devon County Council said its experience of working on coastal paths was that they often cost far more than originally supposed.[110]

67.  Natural England and Defra were confident that £50 million was sufficient. Natural England told us the estimate was "robust", although a "detailed national audit of existing coastal access arrangements" was scheduled to finish in spring 2009 which would "provide a further opportunity to test these cost assumptions".[111] The Minister said he was "very comfortable" with the £50 million estimate, saying it had "not been plucked out of the air" by Natural England. Presentations he had received from officials had reassured him that £50 million would deliver the project.[112]

68.  The development of the coastal pathway requires sound establishment in the first instance. We are not convinced that £50 million over ten years is the correct sum for the job. Whilst the Bill is amended in the light of the consultation exercise, Defra should re-evaluate Natural England's assumption regarding the cost of developing the pathway. Once the exercise is completed a detailed schedule of the proposal's cost should be published.

101   "Access to the Coast: Frequently Asked Questions", Defra website, 30 June 2008, Back

102   Natural England, Improving coastal access: Our advice to Government, February 2007, p viii Back

103   Ev 24, para 5; Natural England Board, 21 February 2007, Paper Number NEB P07 03 ["Improving Coastal Access"], Annex 6; Defra, Consultation on Proposals to Improve Access to the English coast, June 2007, p 46. Back

104   Ev 24, para 2 Back

105   The project officer would be based in the access authority for 3 years on average-with variation of the actual term of employment according to the actual size and complexity of each authority's coastline. Ev 124 [Defra]; Ev 25 [Natural England]. Back

106   Cost estimate of £4,945 per km for establishment of works to facilitate new access is based on work undertaken by independent consultants. Cost estimate of £3,185 per km for improvements to existing access. Ev 125 [Defra].  Back

107   Maintenance cost estimate of £580 per km per year. Ev 125 [Defra]. Back

108   Q 196; Ev 54, section 3. Back

109   Ev 142, para 6; Ev 164, para 5; Ev 177, section 3; Q 348. Back

110   Q 353. The cost of establishing some new coastal routes in Devon had ranged between £5,000 and £10,000 per km-excluding the cost of two footbridges, landowner mitigation works, and compensation payments to landowners. Natural England's own working estimate for the funding of establishment works to facilitate access is £4,945 per km, which includes the establishment of steps, bridges, drainage, signs and notices. Devon County Council acknowledged, however, that its costs were "likely to be considerably higher than most new routes created through the Coastal Access proposals as we have been constrained on the choice of route by the need to seek agreement with the landowners" (Ev 103). Back

111   Ev 3, para 20 Back

112   Qq 381, 401, 404. Back

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