Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report

12  'Higher rights'

92.  The draft Bill proposes coastal access rights on foot only. It does not include provisions relating to so-called 'higher rights' such as horse riding or cycling. Natural England's view is that:

it would be impracticable and unreasonable for horse riding and cycling rights to apply along the length of the coast. We will be seeking local opportunities to improve such rights, with the agreement of the occupier, as part of the coastal access project. We intend to publish separate, non-statutory criteria to guide this work. We also intend to consider with Defra how existing higher rights around the coast can best be protected in the face of erosion.[137]

93.  Some local authorities believed that the Bill should be more explicit in supporting 'higher rights' on the coast. Devon County Council "supports the principle of providing for multi-use access on the English coastal route (including horse riding and cycling) where appropriate". It said that it already has some experience in this area: for example, the Council has established multi-use on the Tarka Trail in North Devon and has recently opened a new stage of the Exe Estuary Cycle Trail, which is set to be "an outstanding coastal route in South Devon". It believed provision for higher rights "should be included in the Draft Marine Bill as a power rather than a duty".[138] The Cumbria Countryside Access Partnership Board also believed that "higher rights for other users such as cyclists or horse riders should be expressly provided for (as options) in the Draft Bill, so that they can be used where appropriate and desirable to improve access along the coast". It believed this "provides a stronger framework than merely seeking "local opportunities to improve these rights as part of the coastal access project".[139]

94.  The British Horse Society (BHS) and the cyclists' organisation CTC naturally wanted the Marine Bill to lead to an increase in the area of the coast open to horse riding and cycling. The BHS said that only 7% of coastal rights of way were available for horse riding, as opposed to the 22% of national rights of way. It wanted the Bill to contain "a general presumption that access will be provided for all non-motorised users unless it can be shown that local circumstances militate against this".[140] CTC asked as a minimum requirement for there to be "a duty to consider access by cyclists and equestrians between suitable access points (roads or tracks) unless constrained by overriding safety, environmental or land management issues".[141] The Central Council of Physical Recreation wanted coastal access to "appeal to the widest range of people, for example young people, many of whom do not find walking appealing or exciting. This is indicated by the increasing ages of walkers".[142]

95.  Some witnesses opposed such extension of higher rights because it went beyond the original aims to provide access on foot, or on the grounds of cost, impact on wildlife and the environment, the unsuitability of the terrain on the coast or their belief that horses and bicycles would be a disturbance to walkers.[143]

96.  Defra say that "[T]he coast is a complex environment and a blanket right of access for horseriders and cyclists would not be appropriate", although it notes Natural England will seek local opportunities to improve such rights where appropriate.[144] Natural England told us part of its £50 million estimate for the proposals included provision for a fund to contribute to locally-based initiatives to deliver "wider access improvements".[145]

97.  Defra and Natural England's approach to 'higher rights' is a sensible one. The focus of the proposal is for access on foot. It would not be practical or affordable to make the whole of the coastal path usable by horses and bicycles. But we agree that where local geography and environmental circumstances allow, the opportunity should be taken to improve access for such users. We do not believe that such an approach needs to be specified as a duty in the legislation. If access for other users is granted it should not be implemented until decisions on future maintenance of the pathway are agreed with the access authority.

98.  While there are occasional difficulties when walkers, horse riders and cyclists share the same route, any problems from the illegal use of motor vehicles would be much more serious. Motor vehicles would cause disturbance, danger and annoyance, and would ruin the purposes of the coastal access proposals. Natural England and access authorities must ensure as far as possible that four wheeled vehicles, including quad bikes, are physically denied access to the coastal route or spreading room.

137   Ev 5, para 40 Back

138   Ev 91-92, Executive summary. Back

139   Ev 91, para 6 Back

140   Ev 147, paras 6, 7, 11. Back

141   Ev 210, executive summary, section 9. Back

142   Ev 195, para 8 Back

143   Such as Michael-Sagar-Fenton (Ev 132), Jean Perraton (Ev 158), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Ev 171), Pentewan Sands Ltd (Ev 175), and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (Ev 216). Back

144   "Access to the Coast: Frequently Asked Questions", Defra website, 30 June 2008,; Natural England, Coastal access: Natural England's Outline Scheme, April 2008, p 2. Back

145   Ev 24 (DMB 56d) Back

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