Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We are conscious of the fact that many different types of people will want to have access to the coastal route. I had the brief pleasure of being on the coastal path in Cornwall for a few days during the Recess and I can say that many and varied are the manners of men and women on that path. They range from people one can espy in the distance, and four hours later glimpse a considerable way behind, to others who in a matter of 20 minutes seem to close a gap of a mile or two and go whizzing past. We are all aware of the variations in pace of people using these routes, which is why there can be problems where the path is narrowly defined. That is also why issues beyond just the footpath have to be considered. However, the Bill is premised on these considerations, and there is no way that Natural England can set about its task of providing access to the coastal route unless it takes into account the points made so graphically in the amendment. It may be that this is expressed in more general terms as regards access and the desirability of continuing the route to a particular physical feature, but, as I say, the legislation is premised on Natural England making sure that access is achieved as readily as possible. I do not think that we need the amendment because the Bill already provides for these matters. I hope the noble Baroness will accept the government amendment in good faith and feel able to withdraw her own.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, owning, as I do, a major estuary in the south of England, I also welcome the Government’s attitude on this. It is totally impractical to consider transport and access paths to get to the coastal path. There has been now a compromise which is welcome to all.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord.



1 Jun 2009 : Column 38

Amendment 124FB agreed.

Amendment 124FBA not moved.

Clause 292 : Long-distance routes

Amendment 124FC

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

124FC: Clause 292, page 177, line 43, at end insert—

“(2A) In subsections (2B) and (2C) “preliminary activity” means activity which Natural England considers would facilitate the preparation by it of a report under section 51 pursuant to the coastal access duty.

(2B) Where Natural England considers it necessary or expedient for preliminary activity to be carried out as respects any land, it must—

(a) consider whether it would be appropriate for the access authority in relation to that land to carry out any of the preliminary activity, and

(b) if it concludes that it would be so appropriate, take all reasonable steps to enter into an agreement with the access authority for that purpose.

(2C) An access authority may, as respects any land in its area, enter into an agreement with Natural England under which the access authority undertakes to carry out preliminary activity.”

Amendment 124FC agreed.

Amendments 124G to 124J not moved.

Amendment 124JA

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

124JA: Clause 292, page 178, line 43, at end insert—

“(3A) A proposal for a diversion under subsection (3) may specify that the diversion is to operate as a permanent alternative route or only during the specified period (or periods).”

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, in Committee we had a discussion, which became a little surreal at some points, about alternative routes and optional alternative routes predicated under new Section 55C(4). At that stage, I asked whether it was sensible to lump together the optional alternatives that would be required because of the tide, which comes and goes, coastal erosion, which, by and large, will go but not come, and so on. The clause seems to cover quite different situations.

The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves provides that the diversion may be specified,

In other words, he is putting forward a moderate proposal that makes it possible to create an alternative under new Section 55C(3) that is an option all the time in any area, if that is a sensible thing to do. At the moment it seems that this is not possible under the Bill.

Surely there are many cases where an alternative route could stay open all the time as an option to be used. If it is well used, more people will, of course, use it. My noble friend tells me that there are examples of existing long-distance routes, such as the Pennine Way, where there are alternative routes that are open all the time. Those taking the Pennine Way decide which route to take.

I hope that the amendment commends itself to the Government. It is intended to be constructive and helpful and to reduce what we see as a rather odd and confusing provision. I beg to move.



1 Jun 2009 : Column 39

5.15 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has proposed her amendment and I recognise the good intent behind it. However, there is something of a collision between the Government’s interpretation of the amendment and the clause to which it relates and the terms indicated by the noble Baroness.

The concept behind the noble Baroness’s proposal is that the alternative route should operate at all times; indeed, she has extolled the virtues of that concept. The provision would mean that in some cases users would have a choice of routes. Indeed, it could have the effect of creating circular routes. Now, no one will object to circular routes in principle, because we all know the advantages of going on a walk in which we do not need to directly retrace our steps but can go in a circle. I recognise the virtues of the concept that the noble Baroness is putting forward; it would offer the merit of these choices. However, the purpose of the existing provision in Clause 292—new Section 55C, “Alternative routes”—is entirely different. It is not to create more than one choice but to provide an alternative route to the ordinary route when that route is out of action or unavailable. It is not intended that alternative routes should be permanent and therefore a secondary coastal path, or that they should constantly operate alongside the ordinary route. It is straining the concept of this clause a bit too far when we have made provision for an alternative route because you jolly well have to have that provision if for some reason the existing route becomes impassable or unusable.

Our interpretation of new Section 55C(3) allows for the inclusion of alternative routes to operate during a specified period or period when access to the ordinary route is excluded by reason of a direction under CROW to exclude or restrict access. This might be for land management purposes or for the necessary protection of wildlife. The provision for alternative routes to operate only at specified times when the ordinary route is not available is part of the fair balance, which we have been discussing intensively today, between the interests of the landowner or occupier and the interests of the public in having the coastal route. It will ensure that continuity of access is maintained for the purpose whenever access to the existing main route is withdrawn for good reason.

In addition to the provision for alternative routes to act as a diversion when the ordinary route is not available for a period, new Section 55C(4) provides for Natural England’s report to include an alternative route, which will operate as an optional alternative to the ordinary route, or to be part of it, where the ordinary route might reasonably be regarded as unsuitable for use in particular circumstances. This might be nothing to do with land use, which we have just discussed, and the issues of land ownership, but might instead be due to flooding, the action of the tide or the problems caused by coastal erosion. This will ensure that the safety and continuity of the route are maintained even where difficulties occur because of those factors.

We recognise that there will be localised opportunities to deliver wider benefits for people to enjoy the coast—for example, by improving access from inland or by providing

1 Jun 2009 : Column 40

circular walks and links with public transport. We discussed that on the earlier amendment, and the Government see the virtues behind those concepts. As part of the process of recommending the position of a route, Natural England will consider such opportunities. Such provision would be made in agreement with landowners. Natural England has included its estimates of costs for implementation and allocation to support the delivery of the very same wider opportunities that the noble Baroness has mentioned in support of her amendment.

Using the alternative route provisions, however, is not the correct way to provide for circular routes. That is not the intention of the clause, which is to provide an alternative when the main route cannot be used for a variety of reasons. Although I recognise the intent behind the amendment, and I do not resile from the necessity of developing aspects of the coastal route to provide circular routes and so on, which localities will alight on, the concept in this clause on the alternative route is to guarantee that the coastal route functions when, for good reason, the permanent route is out of action and there needs to be temporary provision. That is why I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that the amendment is not well placed. I hope that I can persuade her to withdraw it.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, had I been leading on this part of the Bill, my amendment would have taken out the word “optional”. I still struggle with the concept of an optional alternative under new Section 55C(4). Is it an optional alternative to take a route that does not involve wading through floodwater? I am not sure that I would regard that as optional, although some people perhaps would not mind doing it. I will withdraw the amendment but, by using the word “optional”, the Government themselves seem to have introduced the concept of circularity and the possibility of there being a circular route. Of course, there should be an alternative to deal with temporary or permanent constraints on using a route as originally designated.

The intention of the amendment was not to create circular routes. That is a good notion, but I do not believe that it was in my noble friend’s mind. I still think that new Section 55C is not as clear as it might be, because it puts together both permanent and temporary problems and suggests that avoiding them is optional. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 124JA withdrawn.

Amendment 124K

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

124K: Clause 292, page 179, line 29, at end insert—

“(2A) The report must contain—

(a) a map showing the landward boundary of the relevant coastal margin, or

(b) a description of that boundary which is sufficient to identify the relevant coastal margin.

(2B) Where a map is contained in a report pursuant to subsection (2A)(a), Natural England must provide a person with a relevant interest in affected land, on request, with a copy of that map.”



1 Jun 2009 : Column 41

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we discussed in Committee the issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Taylor, Lord Greaves and Lord Cameron, about whether a map could clarify the route, location and extent of the coastal margin. As my noble friend Lord Davies said in the debate, the line of a coastal route will be included in a map that forms part of Natural England’s report. He made it clear that in most situations maps will not be necessary to clarify where the coastal margin lies. We were concerned that Natural England would have to engage in an expensive mapping process, when money could be better spent on matters such as communications and information, better interpretation facilities at the coast and work to facilitate wider access. In general, that is the right approach. However, I have considered the matter further and I recognise that it is an important issue on which it is necessary to provide further reassurance, in particular to landowners who wish for clarity on the areas of land to which the new right of access will apply.

Amendment 124K requires Natural England to include in its coastal access report under Clause 292 a map showing the landward boundary of the relevant coastal margin where it is not able to provide a description of the boundary sufficient to identify it. Natural England will be required to describe the route in the report proposed under Section 51. The boundaries of the margin must be clear, so that people will be in a position to make representations about it, and the Secretary of State must be sufficiently well informed to be able to make a determination on the report. The Bill enables Natural England to describe the boundaries of the coastal margin clearly in the report, by means of either a map or words.

I expect that, in the vast majority of cases, Natural England’s description of the margin will be sufficient to suit all parties. However, in some cases Natural England may want to provide a map for clarity. In particular, a map may be helpful where the coastal landscape is complex and difficult to describe in words. In this case, a map would be more appropriate. In addition, a map may be useful where Natural England is using its discretion for the margin on the landward side of the route to extend to a physical feature as set out in new Section 55D(2). The amendment will also require Natural England to provide a copy of the map on request to the person with a relevant interest in that piece of affected land.

I hope that this will give landowners the assurance that they and noble Lords will seek. It is important also for visitors and those who wish to use the new rights. I hope that the amendment is regarded as a sensible response to legitimate concerns. I beg to move.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the thinking behind the amendment. It appeared at an earlier stage that Natural England had an option not to produce maps but simply to provide a description. Many of us will have been briefed by the NFU on its worries about that arrangement. Since we failed earlier today to restrict “coastal margin” to the seaward side of the route, I am happy to accept the Minister’s amendment and once

1 Jun 2009 : Column 42

again thank him for attempting to resolve our concerns, even if he has not gone the whole way, as we were looking for.

Once we have included the Minister’s splendid amendment in the Bill, resulting in the showing of a landward boundary on a map, plus a description of the boundary, do the Government really think it necessary still to include new subsection (7), whereby Natural England is required to include access information in an additional report? Is that not rather going over the top? Also, can the Minister reassure me that the maps will be able to be amended if at some future date a change in land use or rollback takes place, as we cannot afford to set a coastal path in stone?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with the noble Duke on his latter point: there has to be flexibility and opportunities to revisit. On his first question, I do not think that subsection (7) is overegging the pudding. As a recent debate illustrated, it is important that this information is made available. The amendment sensibly ensures that, where words will not suffice, a map is provided, and I welcome the noble Duke’s support for it.

Amendment 124K agreed.

Amendment 124L

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

124L: Clause 292, page 180, line 31, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 182 and insert—

“55E Consideration of reports made pursuant to the coastal access duty

Schedule 1A contains—

(a) provision about the procedure to be followed when a report is submitted under section 51 pursuant to the coastal access duty;

(b) provision which, in relation to such reports, supplements the provision made by section 52.”

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we come to an important part of today’s discussions. We had a detailed debate in Committee about how we would ensure that the interest of landowners was taken into account in the coastal access proposals. I have read the conclusions of the various committees of your Lordships' House and the other place. I am grateful particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and his committee for the strength of their comments. I said in Committee that I was looking at proposals for an objections mechanism which would involve an independent person looking at objections to Natural England’s proposals.

I have therefore tabled Amendments 124L, 124M, 124N, 124P, 124Q, 124R and 124U which, taken together, replace the previous mechanism for considering Natural England’s coastal access reports with a new mechanism that includes provision for an objections procedure. Amendment 124S deletes the provision enabling an order under new Section 3A to provide that no appeal may be made under Section 30 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 against decisions relating to land which is coastal margin.

Amendment 124U inserts a new schedule, Schedule 1A, into the National Parks and Access to the Countryside

1 Jun 2009 : Column 43

Act 1949. It sets out the process for considering Natural England’s coastal access reports. I should like to run through that procedure in some detail.

Paragraph 2 of that schedule says that Natural England must advertise a coastal access report and must take reasonable steps to give notice of the report to those with a relevant interest in affected land and to certain bodies, and to persons set out in regulations. Paragraph 3 says that those with a relevant interest in affected land may make objections that Natural England’s proposals fail to strike a fair balance on certain grounds. They must specify the reasons why they are of the opinion that a fair balance has not been struck. The person making the objection may propose modifications of the proposal.

To be relevant, any modification proposed either at this stage or at a later stage by the appointed person must meet certain criteria. These are that they must be practicable, take account of the considerations mentioned in Clause 287(2)—considerations about safety and convenience of the route, the desirability of the route adhering to the coastal periphery, keeping interruptions to a minimum—and, where appropriate, Clause 291(4), dealing with estuaries. They must also be in accordance with the scheme which is drawn up by Natural England, approved by the Secretary of State, and laid before both Houses of Parliament. These conditions are set out in paragraph 3(6).

5.30 pm

Paragraphs 4 and 5 require Natural England to forward any objection to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State must refer the objection to the appointed person. I make it clear that we envisage that this will be the Planning Inspectorate. The appointed person must initially decide if it is admissible—that is, meets the conditions for making an objection above and is made in accordance with any regulations as to the form and manner of objections and period within which they are to be made. I know that the status and qualifications of the appointed person will be of great significance. I believe that in the inspectorate we will have the independent element in the chain of decision-making about coastal access reports which will give confidence in the objection procedure for those who may bring forward such an objection.

Paragraph 6 says that if the independent person decides that the objection is admissible, the Secretary of State must collect together information relating to the land about which the objection is made. This includes Natural England’s comments on the objection, copies of relevant reports, representations made on the report or any summary of representations and Natural England’s comments on them. The appointed person may require Natural England’s comments to include information on any relevant alternatives or rejected options. This is because it is not the role of the appointed person to repeat the work of Natural England in identifying all alternatives; this mechanism enables the appointed person to be in possession of all the information that Natural England has gathered that is relevant to the objection, and the alternatives that Natural England has considered.



1 Jun 2009 : Column 44

Paragraphs 7 and 8 say that anyone may make a representation to the Secretary of State on the coastal access proposals. Representations from certain bodies, and representations from the persons set out in regulations, which I mentioned earlier, will go in full to the Secretary of State together with Natural England’s comments on them. Other representations will be summarised by Natural England and sent to the Secretary of State with Natural England’s comments. Paragraph 9 requires the Secretary of State to send information on admissible objections to the appointed person. Paragraph 10 says that the appointed person will consider the information and if he is minded to decide that a fair balance has not been struck he will publish the objection and invite representations. Anyone can make representations to the appointed person. The intention here is that the appointed person is required to make a preliminary decision that a fair balance has not been struck but that there are still a number of steps to carry out before he is able to make a final recommendation.

Paragraph 13 provides that the appointed person may limit the proceedings to written representations, or he may hold a hearing or local inquiry where he considers it necessary or expedient to do so. Paragraph 11 deals with the recommendation of the appointed person to the Secretary of State as to whether he should determine that the proposals fail or do not fail to strike a fair balance. If he recommends that they do fail to strike a fair balance, then the appointed person must recommend either that no modification would strike the fair balance, a certain modification would strike the fair balance, or a certain modification may strike the fair balance. Where he recommends that no modification would strike a fair balance, he may additionally recommend that a certain modification would, or may, mitigate the effects of the failure to strike a fair balance. Any modification must be in accordance with the criteria set out in paragraph 3(6), which I mentioned earlier.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page