Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ninth Report


Conclusions and recommendations


Introduction

1.  It is for the House to decide how it conducts pre-legislative scrutiny, not for the Government to determine. When the Government is preparing draft bills in the future, it should inform the Liaison Committee which should recommend, in consultation with the relevant departmental select committee, how pre-legislative scrutiny should be conducted. (Paragraph 4)

Is new legislation the most appropriate method by which to create coastal access?

2.  The draft legislation requires amendment and modification before we can be satisfied it is sensible and fair. (Paragraph 22)

Discretion given to Natural England

3.  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 safeguards—especially 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. (Paragraph 30)

4.  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 scenario—such 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. (Paragraph 33)

5.  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. (Paragraph 34)

6.  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. (Paragraph 35)

7.  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. (Paragraph 36)

Parliamentary scrutiny

8.  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 resolution procedure. (Paragraph 38)

Appeal process

9.  The lack of a formal appeal process is a fundamental weakness of the Bill. We consider the right of landowners and occupiers to have an independent, third-party appeal process to be an important element of the fair balance between public and private interests that the Government is aiming to achieve. The Bill should provide for such a process. (Paragraph 45)

10.  Should an appeal process be allowed, the Government should ensure the costs involved with using it are minimised. (Paragraph 46)

Compensation

11.  The Bill should give Natural England the power to offer compensation to owners and occupiers who can demonstrate financial loss as a result of the coastal access provisions where such compensation is necessary to achieve the fair balance between public and private interests that the Bill requires. (Paragraph 53)

Parks and gardens

12.  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. (Paragraph 63)

Cost

13.  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. (Paragraph 68)

Long-term maintenance

14.  The Government should clarify responsibility for, and the estimated costs involved in providing, long-term maintenance before the Bill is introduced. If assurances on this cannot be given ahead of the introduction of the Bill then the Government should not proceed with the measure until this is clarified. (Paragraph 72)

Liability

15.  We support the Bill's proposals to extend the reduction of occupier's liability to include man-made as well as natural features. However, in its Response, the Government should clarify the liability position of landowners on their private, non-access land, who may now experience a higher number of trespassers because of the opening-up of nearby access land. (Paragraph 76)

16.  The Bill should state that Natural England has an obligation to ensure landowners and walkers have a clear understanding about the extent of spreading room. Landowners and occupiers should be able to make representations (in the same way that they can about the alignment of the route and spreading room) if they believe this is not clear, and formally to request the production of a local map. (Paragraph 80)

17.  The Government should also hold discussions with Ordnance Survey and Natural England to establish how the former intends to deal with the creation of the coastal pathway. If Ordnance Survey does create maps of the access routes, it must be clearly established what status in law these will have in the event of any legal action resulting from the public's use of the access facilities. (Paragraph 81)

Spreading room

18.  Natural England should hold discussions with farmers and coastal businesses about the practicalities of spreading room and produce further advice to Government about the implications of spreading room, for example for livestock farmers and coastal businesses. (Paragraph 82)

Animals

19.  As this is still only a Draft Bill, we recommend the scope of the Bill be widened to include amendment of the Animals Act 1971 along the lines of the Animals Act 1971 (Amendment) Bill of Session 2006-07. (Paragraph 85)

Dog management

20.  We agree that the nature of the coastal trail and spreading room suggests that the general rule should be the same as that which already applies on public rights of way, although in the vicinity of livestock and certain wildlife—and some crops—the requirement should be for them to be on short leads as it is under CROW. However the precise meaning of "close control" is not obvious or well defined, so we urge access authorities to do more to clarify the term by providing dog owners with specific examples of what it means in practice. (Paragraph 90)

21.  In its final Scheme, Natural England must demonstrate that when setting the line of the route it will keep dogs off land used for vegetable and salad crops where the farmer's contracts stipulates that dogs must be excluded from the cropped area. (Paragraph 91)

'Higher rights'

22.  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. (Paragraph 97)

23.  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. (Paragraph 98)


 
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