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"At first reading, I thought that this was a moderately benign amendment giving an exception but, now having read it three times, it seems to me that it would give all landward owners and others who fall into that category what amounts to a veto. As I read it, that would wreck the coastal duty. Therefore, we could not support that particular amendment."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 1 June 2005; Vol. 711, c. 13.]
On amendments 32 and 33, I welcome the support from hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, for the summit on sporting interests, which we held in the summer. It was attended
by the Country Land and Business Association, the Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Angling Trust, and others. It was a constructive summit, and I shall say more about it in a moment. The proposals emanating from it are sound, and they were welcomed by the BASC, the Angling Trust and others.
The hon. Member for Newbury has raised an important issue in amendments 32 and 33, which we discussed in Committee. Their combined effect would be to delete the existing categories of owner and leaseholder in clauses 292(4) and proposed new section 55J(2) in clause 297, and replace them with a definition of a "relevant interest", which includes those who hold a legal estate or legal interest in the land. That was part of our discussion at the sporting summit, which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) also attended. Natural England and the Secretary of State would have a duty to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having rights of access over land and the interests of any person with a relevant interest in the land, which would now include those with any interest in the land, including the owners of sporting rights and easements.
Those people would be a category of persons who must be consulted before Natural England's report is drawn up, and be notified of Natural England's final proposals for a coastal route. They would be able to make objections to Natural England's proposals under the procedures for objections included in schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which schedule 19 inserts in the Bill. That procedure is available to persons with a relevant interest in affected land. In Committee, I said clearly that I want to take further steps to assure those sporting interests not only that their concerns are being listened to, but that we would, if we could, take further steps to assure those with sporting interests over land that they can continue to enjoy their rights when coastal access has been introduced.
We had a very productive meeting on 7 September, which was attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and representatives from the Angling Trust, BASC, the Country Land and Business Association and the Countryside Alliance, and I heard their views and concerns about the issues involved. I said at the meeting, and I now reaffirm, that our intention is that those with a sporting right, including holders of sporting tenancies-that was a major concern-should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under schedule 19 to the Bill to ensure that their representations are given particular consideration by the Secretary of State. The regulations in question are those in paragraph 2(2)(f) of the new schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which would be inserted by schedule 19 to the Bill. The effect would be that Natural England would have to take reasonable steps to give notice of a relevant coastal access report to those with sporting rights, and any representations that they made on the report would go in full to the Secretary of State rather than being summarised.
The concerns of those with sporting rights will be given full consideration by the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision on Natural England's proposals. In addition, when a landowner's objection is being
considered by an appointed person under the procedures in schedule 1A, and the appointed person is minded to determine that the proposals fail to strike a fair balance, a copy of the published notice, which invites representations in relation to the objection, and any "relevant alternative modifications" included in Natural England's comments on it, must be given to the holders of sporting rights and others.
I believe that our proposed regulations are the right way to go, and that our approach meets the concerns that have been raised. I am extremely pleased that as a result of the summit, the Angling Trust and BASC have welcomed our proposals as satisfying their concerns. I am confident that public access and public safety can co-exist with the continued ability of those with sporting rights both to enjoy their sport and to run profitable businesses. I recognise the role that sporting interests, such as shooting and angling, play in the rural economy. Significant safeguards are already built into the legislation to ensure that all interests, including sporting interests, are taken into account. The basis of the approach to coastal access is extensive consultation before Natural England's proposals are made. The Secretary of State and Natural England must aim to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public in having a right of access and those of persons with a relevant interest in the land, as defined in the Bill. However, I stress that all interests will be taken into account when Natural England draws up proposals for the coastal route and the margin.
The Bill provides for extensive preliminary work and for consultation before Natural England draws up its recommendations. Natural England has said in its draft scheme that it will work with many interests, including shoot managers, when considering the best alignment for the trail. Natural England has also made it clear that it will draw up draft proposals, and these will include information on any exclusions and restrictions on access that it considers necessary. Natural England will also advertise the proposals and will ask for comment-it will not be hidden; it will be wide open. Everyone in the House now subscribes to the principle of transparency, and this will be more transparent than anything. It will provide the opportunity for anybody to make their views known and for those views to be taken into account by Natural England.
The scheme that I have described, which sets out how Natural England will approach implementation of the legislation, will be consulted on, is subject to approval by the Secretary of State and will be laid before Parliament. The proposals will include details of the route and associated coastal margin, and also any exclusions or restrictions on access to land included in it. Following the publication of proposals, anyone can make representations to the Secretary of State. The representations will go to the Secretary of State in summary form, and he must take account of them in deciding whether to approve or reject the proposals, or to approve them with modifications.
What I am proposing is that those with a sporting right, including holders of sporting tenancies, should be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under schedule 19, so that their representations go in full rather than in summary form to the Secretary of State. In addition, experience of open access has shown
that in most cases the best way to reconcile public access and sporting activities is through positive management techniques and engagement on the ground. That is the way it works. Where that is not the case, those with a sporting right will have an ongoing right to apply for restrictions and exclusions of access, where necessary, and a right of appeal if they are not put in place.
Those with a relevant interest, as defined by section 45 of the CROW Act, which includes sporting rights, will have the same rights as they do now on CROW land, to apply for restrictions and exclusions of access for land management reasons. Land management can include, for instance, management of a sporting activity-including, if appropriate, the sporting activity itself or the holding of commercial events. Such sporting activities might include shooting or fishing, and those with rights that enable them to carry out these activities on access land could apply for restrictions or exclusions, if they are necessary.
I believe-here I echo comments made by my hon. Friends-that that process has worked well under the CROW Act for open country and registered common land. We have issued a consultation paper on the new section 3A order required under the Bill. We made it clear in Committee and elsewhere that we have no intention to make changes to the categories of people who may make an application for restrictions and exclusions under section 24 of the CROW Act.
Given that different approach for coastal land and the consultative nature of the process, and given the approach that we have set out in the Bill-along with the commitment that I am happy to reaffirm today that those with a sporting right, including those with sporting tenancies, should be specified in the regulations under schedule 19-I urge the hon. Member for Newbury once again to consider withdrawing the amendment.
Let me deal with another issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, which we touched on in Committee, about those with interests other than shooting, including issues surrounding mineral rights. I confirm that Natural England will carry out an extensive process of consultation with local interests, as I have described-land managers, local access forums, local authorities, representatives of recreational interests, wildlife interest groups and so forth. When I met the coastal access forum a few weeks ago, I promised to consider any information that it could provide me with on who might hold mineral rights. We had a useful discussion. I have not been sent anything since the meeting, but we will consider the possibility of including those with such rights in the regulations in paragraph 2(2)(f) of new schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which would be inserted under schedule 19. We will consult on those regulations in due course.
Let me deal now with amendment 34, tabled by the hon. Member for Newbury, which would insert a new subsection into proposed new section 55E. It would oblige the Secretary of State to make regulations that would entitle a person with a relevant interest in affected land to require Natural England to undertake a review of a coastal access report on certain grounds. These may include a proposed or actual change in land use and a review of existing or proposed exclusions or restrictions of access. Applicants seeking a review would have recourse to the objections procedure set out in
schedule 19, should Natural England not undertake a review or amend its report accordingly.
I understand the concerns of the House that the coastal access provisions should not prevent future changes in land use. For this reason, I have been talking to stakeholders, explaining how the provisions will work and providing reassurance that the Bill will be implemented in a way that does not sterilise land by preventing any future changes. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I want to make it clear that we are not in the business of allowing a coastal path to mean no future development, which would go against the whole ethos of the Bill.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman tempts me down a path on single farm payments that I am wary of treading on. It is more to do with how proposals for future land use are developed. In my constituency, for example, an area has been designated for light industrial use for 20 years, yet there is no light industrial use on it. If we were to incorporate that sort of approach into the coastal margin, we could well end up with a coastal path or coastal margin without any integrity or coherence-a coastal path with big red lines all the way along it. There might be further proposals for every couple of miles along the path. We need to ask how one defines a proposal. Is something defined as a proposal because it features in a local development plan or a unitary development plan some years down the line? Is it a proposal if some supermarket or retailer has said that it might be interested somewhere down the line? I shall explain in more detail later why that simply would not work.
I understand the concerns, which is why I used the term sterilised land, about the idea that if a coastal path were put in place, it would mean that no development could happen. We do not want that. On the contrary, I believe that the Bill's provisions are extremely flexible in that respect. Let me explain why I believe the necessary safeguards are in place.
At the outset, before drawing up a report on a particular stretch of coast, Natural England will take appropriate account of any relevant local plans, such as local development plans and planned major developments, as part of its consultation with landowners, local authorities and others, including the Marine Management Organisation. As we are all aware, the MMO will be consulted on any plans that could affect the marine environment as a result of the Bill. It is likely to have a pretty good knowledge of what is coming down the track, including some of the much further afield national infrastructure developments. I encourage all those affected to engage in constructive discussions with Natural England at this early stage on the best position for the route.
As part of the local consultations on the route and spreading room, Natural England will discuss the need for any exclusions or restrictions on access. Any necessary exclusions or restrictions will be included in Natural England's report and put in place before the right of
access to that particular stretch of coast comes into effect. If circumstances change at a later date, those with an interest in the land can apply for restrictions or exclusions under sections 24 and 25 of the CROW Act -for example, for land management purposes. The flexibility is built in there.
Once the route is implemented, under the provisions in the CROW Act, land can become excepted from the right of access at any time if some change or development occurs so that it falls into one of the excepted land categories in schedule 1 to the CROW Act. These include, for example, land covered by buildings or the curtilage of such land; land used for the purposes of railways or tramways; and land that does not fall within some other excepted land categories and is covered by works used for the purposes of a statutory undertaking.
"Land as respects which development which will result in the land becoming land falling within any of paragraphs 2 to 8 is in the course of being carried out."
In addition, it is worth reminding hon. Members that the line of the route is not fixed permanently. Powers in section 55 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 enable Natural England to review the route and associated margin and to propose changes to the Secretary of State at a later date-subject, once again, to full consultation, representation and the objections process. In those ways, the legislation is designed to take account of changes in use and future developments.
I consider it neither appropriate nor practical that a person with a relevant interest in land should be able to require Natural England to carry out a review of a report on the basis of a proposed development, or to have recourse to the objections procedure in schedule 19 to the Bill, if Natural England does not agree to amend the report on the basis of such a proposal. At the proposal stage, it may be several years before a determination on any eventual planning application is reached-we are all familiar with that in our constituencies-or the change of use is implemented or development begun, and the final agreed development may be significantly different from the original proposal in size and shape. Such an approach, which could preclude access for some time, would not be considered fair to the local community or other users, and would not help us to deliver on our aspirations for a coastal path.
As I have explained, if a change of use or development occurs so that land falls within one of the categories of excepted land in schedule 1 to the CROW Act, it becomes excepted from the right of access. If land over which the coastal route passes becomes excepted land, I would expect Natural England to review its report and propose a revised route so that continuity is maintained. Indeed, it would be difficult to see how Natural England would be fulfilling its coastal access duty were continuity of the path not maintained.
I recognise the concerns of landowners and occupiers about any possible impacts of the right of access on future change of land use or development. Planning policy guidance recognises the importance of protecting
and enhancing the character and landscape of undeveloped coastline and supports the provision of public access to the coast as a basic principle. However, where a coastal location is necessary for development-for example, to provide essential energy infrastructure-and access is not compatible with the development, it will be in no one's interests for the coastal route to be given undue weight in the decision. The flexible way in which the legislation will work will help to ensure that that is not the case.
Turning to the second reason cited in the amendment for requiring Natural England to undertake a review of a report, those with a relevant interest in land may already make an application to the relevant authority for exclusions or restrictions of access under sections 24 and 25 of the CROW Act. They must also be consulted when the relevant authority is considering revoking or varying a direction made on application under sections 24 or 25. When the relevant authority does not act in accordance with such an application or a representation, there is already a right of appeal to the Secretary of State under section 30 of the Act. In many cases, the sort of developments involved will have been discussed with Natural England when the proposals for the route were drawn up. If the process and scheme of operation works as has been explained, the issue will be picked up, and a contact will be available. In other cases, the normal routes to contact Natural England-via website, post and phone-will be available. The local authority might also provide a good way of making contact, as it will often have worked on proposals for development. Given those clarifications, I hope the hon. Gentleman will consider whether he needs to press the amendment.
Amendment 40, tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test, for Sheffield, Hillsborough and for High Peak (Tom Levitt), would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament within two years of the commencement of part 9 of the Act, with particular regard to the progress made on four issues-the voluntary inclusion of parkland, the inclusion of the Isle of Wight in an order under clause 295, the addition of further islands reachable by ferry under the same clause and the use of seasonal ferries as part of the coastal path under clause 296. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to append proposals to remedy shortcomings in the establishment of coastal routes that are apparent to him.
Let me discuss the four issues, and explain why I do not consider the amendment to be necessary. First, as I made clear in Committee, I recognise that the issue of parks and gardens is important for many people-it was raised during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and again during the Bill's passage in the other place. I have listened to the different arguments put forward. On the one hand, an individual's property rights and privacy should be protected-there has never been any withdrawal from that point of principle-and we want to make sure that the balance is right in that regard. On the other hand, the exception for parks and gardens could result in significant detours, not least where there are extensive parklands on the coast.
We have said that we do not intend to change the category of excepted land in schedule 1 to the CROW Act, which covers parks or gardens, under which there
would be no right of access to such land. There was cross-party support in Committee for our approach, in which, as I made clear, Natural England will seek to reach voluntary agreements with landowners to enable a route to be created through a park, where necessary, to provide continuity of access and to avoid a significant inland diversion. Hon. Members have related their experiences of being diverted miles inland to a route that certainly could not be defined as a coastal walk.
I have asked Natural England to try to secure access along the route by voluntary means, and in particular through the dedication of land for public access under the CROW Act provisions. The system that I have set out should be given a trial, which should investigate how great the problems are and how evident the good will of landowners and occupiers of parks is. Subsequent to our debate in Committee, individual landowners or representative bodies whom I have met have been clear that they are expected to deliver on that undertaking in a voluntary way. I recently met the coastal access forum, which includes representatives from a number of organisations such as the CLA and the Historic Houses Association, and they assured me, and have subsequently written, that they will work constructively with Natural England in such cases where parks abut the coast. However, it will be important that Parliament monitors the effectiveness of the voluntary approach proposed. Natural England has therefore been tasked to keep the matter under review.
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