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General Committee Debates
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]

Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Roger Gale, † Mr. Greg Pope
Ainger, Nick (Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire) (Lab)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
George, Andrew (St. Ives) (LD)
Gilroy, Linda (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab)
McKechin, Ann (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)
Salter, Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)
Swire, Mr. Hugo (East Devon) (Con)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Chris Shaw, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 9 July 2009


[Mr. Greg Pope in the Chair]

Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]

Written evidence to be reported to the House
MC 06 Shellfish Association of Great Britain

Clause 292

The coastal access scheme
9 am
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I beg to move amendment 42, in clause 292, page 188, line 5, at end insert
‘and shall put the proposed scheme or any revised scheme out to public consultation.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 55, in clause 296, page 193, line 4, at end insert—
‘(h) consult appropriate representative bodies for recreational users and land management organisations,
(i) consider any other representations received by them.’.
This amendment is designed to add the organisations which have already been indicated by Ministers in the Lords who be notified of reports and have their representations passed on to the Secretary of State on reports to a list of organisations which will be consulted on the content of reports.
Mr. Benyon: It is a great pleasure to have you back in the Chair, Mr. Pope. You will see that we have made startling progress since you were last here, but there are still important issues to resolve before we complete the Committee stage, one of which is raised by my amendment.
The amendment seeks to ensure that before the Secretary of State approves Natural England’s final proposals for the coastal access scheme and lays them before Parliament, those proposals are subject to public consultation. Consultation has arisen on numerous occasions in various areas of the Bill. I anticipate that the Minister will argue that there has been consultation, and that there will be extensive further consultation. I note that on page 9 of the draft scheme guidance on coastal access prepared by Natural England, there is a helpful flow chart of the various processes of the designation of the path, which includes a number of different consultations. I appreciate that, but the consultation that I propose is for a particular area.
There will be extensive further consultation with local authorities and key individuals during the drawing up of coastal access reports, and we support that. However, I wish to make a specific point on an area from which public consultation seems to be conspicuously absent, and I hope that, in the spirit of the conversations that we have had on these sorts of concerns, the Minister will be able to reassure me.
The amendment deals with public consultation on the coastal access outline scheme, rather than on the coastal access reports, which will be consulted on after the outline scheme is approved. The scheme will outline how Natural England will approach the discharge of its coastal access duty and will constitute the guiding principles for coastal access reports. It is therefore extremely important that Natural England gets it right, and that the concerns of all parties are taken into account before the scheme is sent for approval by the Secretary of State and then laid before Parliament, at which point there will be no recourse to amend it. As the Bill stands, there will be consultation on the outline scheme with “such persons” as Natural England “considers appropriate”. That leaves the choice of who gets consulted completely at the discretion of Natural England. How will Natural England determine who is appropriate? Surely public consultation would be preferable, so that all interested parties are given an opportunity to contribute, rather than an elite few chosen by Natural England.
Although Natural England has released the draft outline scheme, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has produced a draft section 3A order indicating both how access will be implemented and the changes that the Department proposes to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, both those documents are subject to change, especially the latter. So much is being left to the discretion of Natural England, and we are putting huge faith in an unelected body. It is hard to know what the final scheme will consist of, and the public must have a right to be consulted, in addition to the consultation that was held prior to the drafting of the Bill. The amendment seeks to ensure that all members of the public are given equal access to the consultation on the outline scheme before the scheme is approved. That means that the best informed version will reach the Secretary of State and Parliament.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I support amendment 42 and would like to give a little more background to amendment 55, which is in my name. On the basis of the case made by the hon. Member for Newbury, I support the opportunity for extended public consultation on any proposals. One issue that has not been covered in the debate so far is that of the many visitor attraction businesses that exist on the coastline. A lot of our attention has been placed on coastal access in relation to members of the public engaged in shooting, or other recreational activities. However, some businesses will be on either side of the coastal footpath, and it is reasonable to ensure their interests in maintaining their businesses. For example, some businesses have a hotel on the headland, but also have exclusive rights to other parts of the coastline right up to the high water mark, and sometimes beyond. That needs to be recognised. In my constituency, there is a local visitor attraction business, a historic house, which is increasingly used for wedding ceremonies and other events, where it is reasonable to expect a certain amount of privacy. That needs to be taken into account when considering the proposals and should form part of the consultation.
During debates in the House of Lords, cross-party support was shown for greater involvement of user groups and the public in the drafting of the reports. For example, on 21 April, Lord Taylor of Holbeach stated:
“National and local organisations will also be important. The briefings that Peers on all sides have received from some of them show how useful they can be in identifying the concerns of both potential users and those who will be affected. To ignore them would be a big mistake. My third amendment would ensure that they, too, are consulted properly during the preparatory stages.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 April 2009; Vol. 709, c. 1441.]
During discussion of the Bill on Report, the noble Lord Judd said:
“It would be reassuring and helpful for these tremendously committed and important people in our society if my noble friend could unequivocally say at the Dispatch Box that the regulations will underline the importance of such bodies being part of the list of people to be consulted, not least on appeals. That is where the anxiety exists.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 June 2009; Vol. 711, c. 49.]
In the same debate, the noble Baroness Hamwee said:
“My Lords, the amendment is about a fair balance. The imbalance is in the consultation, as Natural England will have to consider representations from persons with a relevant interest but not to consult bodies representing user group and the public. That is why this is particularly important. The imbalance is not corrected in the new schedule”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 June 2009; Vol. 711, c. 25.]
In response, Ministers conceded that user groups would have their representations passed on in full to the Secretary of State, and that they would be notified by Natural England of reports, but critically that they would not be included formally in the consultations. On behalf of the Government, the noble Lord Hunt said:
“I listened to my noble friend Lord Judd with great care, and we will have to consult in full on the persons it would be appropriate to include, but we have in mind that they would include the Ramblers’ Association, the Open Spaces Society, the British Mountaineering Council, the Country Land & Business Association and the National Farmers’ Union, and we will listen to other suggestions with great interest...I have already named several bodies that we expect to include in the regulations, so that their representations would go in full to the Secretary of State. They include such organisations as the Country Land & Business Association, the NFU, the Ramblers’ Association and the Open Spaces Society.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 June 2009; Vol. 711, c. 51-52.]
9.15 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): Good morning, Mr. Pope. This is an important debate with which to start our sitting because it is key to making sure that as many people as possible can take part in the process of devising schemes and subsequent local reports as we extend coastal access throughout England.
I want to make it clear at the beginning that we fully intend that Natural England will consult as widely as possible on both the draft scheme, which was referred to in amendment 42, and the subsequent reports that are mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Ives in amendment 55. However, public consultation and how we define groups to be consulted is a bit more tricky. I hope to put on the record this morning assurances of the nature of the consultation that we expect to take place, which I hope will satisfy hon. Members.
Amendment 42 deals with the duty on Natural England under clause 292 to set out in a scheme to be approved by the Secretary of State the general approach it will take in implementing the coastal access duty. We have already made copies of the draft scheme available—the hon. Member for Newbury referred to it this morning. I hope that that has added to the understanding of what is intended in the process.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I do not expect an answer on this now, but if these consultations take place across the country, will there be budgetary implications for Natural England? Is it sufficiently resourced to manage those consultations or shall we see a massive expansion in the number of people employed by the organisation?
Ann McKechin: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have taken the cost of consultation into account and we do not envisage a significant increase. I will come on to why we believe that to be the case.
As the hon. Member for Newbury correctly pointed out, the scheme has to be approved by the Secretary of State and then laid before Parliament. That procedure is recommended by Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The input from Members of this House and from the other place will provide Natural England with an opportunity to take into account any suggestions about the scheme. If necessary, the scheme can then be revised from time to time, subject to further approval by the Secretary of State and it being laid before Parliament.
The Bill already requires Natural England to consult such persons as it considers appropriate before it prepares or revises a scheme. Natural England has developed its draft scheme in consultation with key organisations and I am confident that it will wish to continue those consultations as it develops the scheme. I do not believe that amendment 42, which would require Natural England to put the proposed scheme out to public consultation, is necessary. As I have said, Natural England will want to consult as widely as possible, and given that the scheme or any revision has to be approved by the Secretary of State, it will want to do that in advance of submitting the scheme to the Secretary of State. In approving the scheme, the Secretary of State will take into account the extent and coverage of the consultation process.
I now turn to amendment 55, which also deals with consultation. Clause 296 amends part 4 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to require Natural England to consult with various relevant bodies before drawing up a report in addition to the persons already included in section 51(4) of the 1949 Act. It is not necessary to extend the list of organisations that must be consulted in clause 296 proposed section 55D(6) in the way that amendment 55 would do. The process for consultation in clause 55D was drawn up to reflect what is already in section 51 of the 1949 Act and it places sufficient requirements on Natural England to consult appropriately. Natural England’s scheme, which was published in December 2008, and which we have made available already builds in such a draft report stage.
It might be helpful if I set out in greater detail the process by which Natural England will advertise its intention to start work on a particular stretch of coast and how, once it is drawn up, a draft report will be advertised so that people may be made aware of the proposals. Local authorities will be best placed to know of local interests and, where local authorities are willing to participate, Natural England will enter into agreements to enable the local authority to carry out preliminary work to facilitate the preparation of a coastal access report. We have amended the Bill in the other place to clarify that point.
When a new stretch is starting to be considered and an agreement with the local authority has been reached, the local authority will identify and contact all the relevant local stakeholders and interest groups to inform them. The authority may also at this stage be asked to issue a media release to ensure wider awareness. The authority will start to identify all relevant landowners and other relevant interests in affected land to start the phase described at paragraph 3.3 in Natural England’s draft scheme as “Walking the course”. The authority will visit the land that might be affected and will discuss the options for the route with those who own and manage it. The comments made by the hon. Member for St. Ives about a hotel that might have functions near the coastline on certain days of the week wanting to ensure privacy is a good example of what we would expect.
Every bit of coast is different. There are many different interests and they vary. The whole process gets the preliminary survey done so that we truly know who needs to be consulted and who needs to be aware in any particular area. In terms of wider awareness, it is expected that the local authority will issue a media release at the beginning of the consultation period and write to local stakeholders and interest groups who will have been identified at earlier stages. Natural England has already said that it will publish its draft proposals on the internet and invite all relevant interests to comment on them. It will allow a period of 12 weeks for people to view the proposals and submit comments on the report. Copies of the report will be provided in alternative formats where this is required by particular consultees, but the aim will be to minimise the number of printed copies, particularly at the draft report stage, for environmental and cost reasons.
In view of the details that I have outlined, it is clear that the consultation will be extensive and comprehensive.
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