Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

First, land ploughed in the previous 12 months for the purpose of growing crops or trees is no longer excepted if it is part of the coastal route strip. As I understand it, the margin will be able to be accessed, contrary to what we were led to believe when we discussed these matters. We understood that the strip was confined and that "spreading room", as it came to be known, would not extend into ploughed land adjacent to the coastal strip. Can the Minister reassure us on that? Similarly, land within 20 metres of a dwelling is no longer excepted if it is part of coastal margin-that means the spreading room area. Assurances were given about privacy and I hope that the provisions do not affect the privacy of people whose property happens to be in that situation.

4 pm

A golf course is no longer excepted if it is on the coastal margin, which will mean that, in most cases, the whole golf course will be spreading room available from a coastal path, in the sense that there would be no natural landward boundary on most golf courses. That means that much of coastal links would be fully

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC155

open. People could have a picnic, play a game of football or whatever on the golf course. That may not seem a likely possibility but, none the less, it is something about which I am sure that people who run golf courses would be concerned.

The land used for flood defence or sea defence works, too, is no longer excepted. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me, because I live in an area where the sea bank is very important and can represent a jolly good walking route-indeed, I use it myself-but there may be more delicate circumstances where, because of natural sand dunes, pedestrian access could over time create problems with the vegetation that holds the sand dunes together. I hope that alternative path arrangements will be encouraged if at any time access to the defence works poses a threat.

I am glad that the coastal margin and spreading room elements will not include-I believe that I am right to say-a regulated caravan or camping site. We were given that assurance when discussing the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. I am pleased about that, but we also need to be mindful of the fact that policing it will be burdensome and that the privacy of people on those sites may be vulnerable. I hope that the impact of that right will be reviewed, so that if it presents a problem it can be revisited at some stage. As expected, fishing is allowed. I think that all of us welcome the fact that sea angling, which is a sport enjoyed by many people, will still be allowed along the coastal path-indeed, it might be encouraged by the improved access.

I express some concern about the dog requirements. We know that dogs must be kept on a lead from 1 March to 31 July, but on margin land they do not have to be kept under a lead as long as they are under control. The Minister will know as well as anyone that keeping dogs under control is a fine art. It is hard to know just what can be done if a dog runs out of control. What rights would owners have if dogs got out of their control in the spreading room area?

I note that Natural England supplants the national park authorities and all the countryside bodies, such as the Forestry Commission, in relation to coastal margin, which means that the management of that element of their activities will come under Natural England's control. I hope that a proper working relationship will be encouraged between those bodies. No doubt there have already been discussions. It would be useful if the Minister could reassure us on that point as well.

I have already mentioned the whole business of dogs on the coastal margin. Access to salt marshes or flats may be denied if Natural England believes that the land is unsuitable for public access, but will that include nature reserves and bird breeding areas? I read that that could be the case. The order says specifically that access to the coastal margin cannot be made indefinitely for nature conservation or heritage preservation. Have I got that wrong? It would be rather surprising if paths were allowed through areas where birds were breeding and there was an imperative to provide for the security of breeding grounds.

I move now to the effects on farming. Last Saturday, Radio 4's "Farming Today" investigated the operation of the CROW Act. There were interviews with a

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC156

farmer from Warwickshire in the heart of the country and a landowner on the Suffolk coast. Both claimed-I think that this is good news-to have no quarrel with people who obey the rules, but the farmer had had people light barbecues on his land and use the fencing for the purpose and, on one occasion, a wooden gate to keep a fire going, while the landowner claimed that the removal of signs indicating where access was allowed was a daily occurrence. What responsibility will Natural England have to monitor and replace signs? Both claimed that dogs normally stray from the path, as do people when the ground is wet and they are not wearing boots. The result of the first is fouling on farmland and of the second is soil compaction. Instances were given of dog faeces passing on a parasite that is fatal to cattle. There are problems with allowing public access to farming areas.

The training of racehorses in the gallops was debated at length in 2000 when the CROW Act was introduced and the record will show the concerns expressed about walkers using paths while horses are being exercised. The rules put in place to protect both parties are expunged in this order; indeed, gallops are expressly permitted as margin land. Who will be liable in the event of injury to a person by a horse or damage to a horse caused by the presence of a person on land adjacent to that used for training?

We talked about golf courses earlier. In the event of members of the public straying on to golf courses, does the golfer have responsibility for ensuring that his hook shot misses the rambler? Who is liable in the event of such an accident occurring, or do people wander on to a golf course at their own risk-in which case, who advises them that that is the case?

A number of matters arise from the order but, on the whole, we recognise how important it is for the safeguarding of the principles of coastal access, which we support. We hope that the Government will keep the order's operation under review at all times and, in co-operation with Natural England and local authorities, will revisit it should there be a situation in which it needs to be reviewed because of situations arising.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I, too, am pleased to be present at this reunion of-I am not quite sure what to say-old colleagues. We should perhaps toast as an absent friend the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who, along with the Minister, did so much to get the marathon Bill past the rest of us. I understand that people are now calling the Act "MACA". I am not sure whether that is a desirable acronym, but that is what happens nowadays.

The Minister said that the order is a way forward. I am not sure whether that is a pun about the coastal path or whether the coastal path is going round in circles, but the order is very welcome. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, say that the Conservatives welcome the order and that they support, in his words,

It is possible-but perhaps not likely-that after the coming general election the noble Lord may have more to do with the implementation of this order than the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I remain to be convinced about that, but we will see. Who knows?

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC157

As far as I can tell, having tried to go through the order with a fine-tooth comb, it is in line with the Act and the commitments and statements made by the Government and Ministers as the Bill was going through this House and the House of Commons. As always in these matters, I am astonished by the complexity of the order. I wonder whether modern legislation needs to be quite as complex as it is; the country did not collapse 30, 40 or 80 years ago when Acts of Parliament were much simpler and there was much less secondary legislation. However, we are where we are and we get what we are presented with. As always, I blame computers because they make it all possible. However, as I said, the order seems to be generally in line with the Act and what we were told and I very much welcome it.

As the Bill was going through your Lordships' House, we made the point that nearly everything in the order should have been in the primary legislation. When the CROW Act was passed nearly 10 years ago, the equivalent regulations were in the primary legislation, particularly in Schedules 1 and 2. I still do not understand why it was not possible to amend them directly through the Marine and Coastal Access Bill as it was going through the House and before it was passed. However, we are where we are and we now have the order in front of us.

One general question concerns where we are with the draft scheme. I understand that the consultation period has now closed and I wonder how long it will take Natural England to present the definitive scheme to the Secretary of State for approval.

One or two minor points struck me as I was going through the order. Some of them are repetitions of points that I made when we were discussing Part 9 of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill as it was going through the House, while the others have just occurred to me. These will probably come to light when we see the final version of the scheme but, more important, as we see the proposals for each section of coast. The proof of the pudding will be in how it works out in practice. Some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in connection with the relationship with farmland, farmers and farming will have to be resolved locally on the ground and we will see in two or three years' time whether it succeeds or not. We need to come to a solution that is, if not the most desirable, acceptable to all the different parties involved. Clearly there will have to be compromises.

4.15 pm

Article 3, which covers descriptions of coastal margin, refers to part of the coastal margin as being, as we would expect,

that route and the sea. I started thinking about what would happen when there were breaks between the path and the sea. It occurred to me that if there was a building-say, a coastguard's cabin-on top of the cliff, everyone would take the common-sense view that there was a hole in the access land in the coastal margin where that building was and that the coastal margin would continue either side of the building.

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC158

Therefore, the margin would continue on the seaward side of such an interruption, even though technically it would not run continuously between the path and the sea.

However, I wondered how big an obstruction would have to be before Natural England said that there was no longer access to the foreshore. An example might be a housing estate that goes right up to the edge of the foreshore. Because of the nature of the foreshore there-perhaps there is a cliff and then the foreshore-the coastal path has to go round the back of the housing estate. Alternatively, there might be some sort of defence installation or perhaps a caravan site that the path cannot go through, or, if the path can get through, there will still be a gap between the path and the foreshore. How big does the obstruction have to be before access to the foreshore is stopped, or will such access always be presumed where it is possible and sensible, even if quite a big obstruction forms excepted land between the foreshore and the path? Again, I suspect that that is something that we will find out in practice when we look at the proposals that Natural England comes back with, but it is an interesting question that I do not think we have discussed before.

Article 5 concerns cases where the landward boundary is to coincide with a physical feature. I simply repeat the point that I made before. If that physical feature is a cliff that can be climbed on or if it has important natural features-perhaps plants or birds nesting-it is important for a number of reasons that the boundary should coincide with the cliff top and not the cliff bottom. That issue has arisen in a number of places on ordinary CROW land. I made that point when we discussed the Bill as it went through the House and I make it again now.

Part 2 of the schedule concerns restrictions to be observed by persons exercising right of access and relates to Schedule 2 to the CROW Act. The important point to make here-it has been made many times but is still misunderstood by some people-is that these restrictions apply to the right of access under the CROW Act but do not apply to any other access, whether by right or by permission, that exists on that land.

Specifically, in relation to coastal land, if there are at the moment common-law rights-for example, of access to the foreshore on horse-are they affected in any way by this Act? Do they still exist and apply? Equally, if people have, by custom or by permission of the landowners, been able to do things on land that are specifically excluded from the right of access under CROW, will they still be able to do them if the same conditions continue? This was a source of great confusion when the CROW Act was first passed and it is still sometimes a source of confusion because of the wording. If you are on the land because you are exercising the right of access under CROW, these restrictions apply. If you are on the land by virtue of some other right, or by consent, these restrictions do not necessarily apply. They may, but not necessarily, and they certainly do not apply in the form set out in the order. That is a very important principle because this Act, like the

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC159

CROW Act, is not intended to restrict existing activities that happen because people are there either by right or with permission.

I heard what the noble Lord said about salt marshes and flats. It is clear that in some cases it is sensible that there should be restrictions, but I hope that these will not be automatic restrictions whereby just because something is a salt marsh or a flat people are not allowed to go there. There are many salt marshes and flats to which it is perfectly reasonable for people to have access. "Unsuitable" is the sort of word that appears in legislation and potentially gives lawyers a field day. However, if common sense is applied, we can reach a satisfactory situation.

Finally, I hope that Section 26 restrictions, which are for nature conservation and heritage preservation, will not be used in a blanket or draconian way where they apply to climbing on cliffs. At the moment a whole series of extremely intricate rules and regulations applies to where climbers can climb on cliffs where birds are nesting. They are generally known to climbers as "bird bans". I remind the Committee that I have been a climber all my life. These rules are negotiated in a very intricate way by the British Mountaineering Council and its local representatives, the RSPB and its local representatives and other local nature conservation bodies. They apply particularly to sea cliffs and they work. They are completely voluntary; there are no sanctions for breaking them.

I make a point that I have made once or twice in your Lordships' House: when you have a group of fairly anarchic, disorganised people, such as rock climbers, who by and large are not organised in clubs, organisations or societies but do it off their own bat, the system works. It works because the people taking part in the climbing accept it. It has been negotiated by their representatives, the BMC and their local access representatives. Any attempt to bring in bans on a wider, more blanket basis, which are clearly not related to the particular circumstances of particular birds on particular cliffs, would not work because people would start to ignore them. It is just one of those things. We have a system that a lot of people put a lot of effort into. It works and everybody agrees that it works. The fact that there are climbers on adjoining parts of the cliff is a disincentive to those who might want to abseil down and steal eggs or whatever they might want to do. It is a system that works and I urge that any attempt to put blanket statutory bans on these cliffs should be resisted. That would work, in practice, far worse than the present voluntary system.

That is the end of the party political broadcast on behalf of rock climbers. I end by, once again, thanking the Government for the order and looking forward to walking on the first of the new paths and the access land that is opened up.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the order before us. I reiterate what has been said about the amount of work that went into the passing of the original Act.

I shall pick up on one or two important points raised by my noble friend Lord Taylor, as well as one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who asked how big an object would have to be before the route

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC160

went around it. What about any listed buildings, which might be much smaller? Pure size may not be the answer.

I declare an interest as a member of the NFU and the CLA, which is perhaps more relevant to discussions on access.

My noble friend mentioned golf courses, many of which I suspect will be privately owned. I have the joy of playing on a small, nine-hole course at Southwold. That is a public course and members of the public who go over it know that they are likely to get hit by balls if they do not look where they are going. My noble friend's point, however, is important if accidents occur. Would the individual be liable, or would it be the club? There are two different ways of looking at the same question.

I am sorry to return to the question of dogs, because we spent an awful lot of time on it when discussing the CROW Act. I am glad that dogs will be required to be on leads at a particular time, but I am still concerned about the phrasing of the definition of "control"; that is, the owner is,

We happen to have a really super Labrador who is gun-trained and was trialled. He is not just a normal shooting dog; he has done trials as well. I could not be 100 per cent certain that, if something occurred, he might not take a liking to it and perhaps go and have a look for himself, while ignoring me-he does not normally ignore me, because that is the way he was trained before we had him. How confident is the Minister about that provision? What happens if the dog in question is out of control and somebody comes across it? When we discussed the matter previously, colleagues from Wales mentioned going through the Brecon Beacons, where sheep graze as well. They said that when dogs got out of control, the farmer invariably received a mouthful of abuse. Where do the respective parties stand in the law? The provision is idealistic-and I believe in an ideal world-but it is still not quite as it might be.

That brings me back to the whole question of this not having been dealt with in detail in the Act, because, as we know, we can talk about these things today but there is no way in which we can alter them. I do not want more legislation to be brought in-for goodness' sake, we have enough-but will any guidance be given? Is this the final document? What are the public told about access? Will there be guides or encouragement? What is written down?

Our Chairman last week rightly raised in the House the question of Chinese lanterns. I raise it again because Chinese lanterns are an innovation from not that many years ago, but they travel and are likely to cause damage to livestock.

4.30 pm

The other issue that I do not think is covered, unless I have missed it, is the whole question of litter left. We live in a fairly quiet lane that goes down to a reservoir. A lot of people come to watch birds and we are very happy to see them-it is lovely to have people enjoying the countryside-but when I was walking the dog back up the other day, as I do regularly, I collected

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC161

six thrown-away cans of beer. A walker need only be walking without shoes to get their foot cut, as might a dog. What is stated about the whole question of livestock, or even someone's dog, getting injured by litter left by someone else? That sounds trivial-I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will tell me that I am worrying unnecessarily-but in this litigious age the honest truth is that an increasing amount of litter is left by people in lovely countryside. I would very much like to have that clarified.

Another point that my noble friend did not raise is where access will allow walkers to walk through areas such as a holiday camp, which may have its chalets further up but coastal access goes through the site. All the people working there will have had clearance from the Home Office to work with children, for example. If it is opened up to general access, which we all believe in, what is to stop people who might take a different view of their walk in the countryside? Has the Minister given that any thought? It could be a problem, although I hope very much that it is not.

I turn to nature reserves and breeding seasons. Just up the road from where we stay is lovely Minsmere, which has free access and seems to work extremely well, but it is organised. The areas that I am more interested in are natural breeding areas that are not organised or supervised. Again, I seek clarification on that.

On the whole, apart from registering my disappointment that we were unable to deal with the specifics of coastal access when we took the Bill through, I welcome the order, but we need to be sure that it will work. In fairness, I mean that not just from the point of view of the farming community but for those who are going to walk and enjoy the countryside. We do not want bad experiences.

Lastly, in Committee on the Bill, I asked: if someone has an accident on the cliff or on the foreshore, whose responsibility is it? Is it that of the lifeboats or of the local authority? Where does the responsibility start and finish? I am still not quite clear about that. With those few words, I thank the Minister for introducing the order.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his considerable assiduity in explaining the Government's legislation to us time and again. He and I have exchanged views on the question of access rights and golf courses on several occasions. I am aware of his enthusiasm for the game, as much as I am that he does not appreciate the difficulties and dangers as much as I would like.

I have declared my interest as a farmer and as the manager of a golf course. In responding to my concerns when we discussed this issue in Committee on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, the Minister's words, as Hansard recorded them, were:

"The noble Duke will have to accept that considerable discussion will go on for a long time before the Bill is completed, and there will be further discussion before the order is drafted ... We will have to engage in additional consultation about these issues".-[Official Report, 30/3/09; col. 915.]

It is interesting to look at what the consultation has amounted to. Prior to our consideration of the Bill, there was consultation by Natural England in a February

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC162

2007 paper. At Annexe 2, it says that the availability of continuous access was considered. The problems with various developments were highlighted, such as the ones that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was worried about, including caravan sites and golf courses. The paper ended by saying that providing suitable diversions or ways through could make a real difference to the continuity of access.

I have recently been in touch with the English Golf Union, which was included in this consultation and was required to undertake studies in four areas-Suffolk, Devon North, Durham and Cumbria-where it identified 18 golf courses that would be affected. It presented its findings to the coastal lands advisory group. Last year, presumably as part of the 8 September consultation that the Minister has referred to, the EGU received a pro forma, which had to be completed by 1 December, that asked, at question 19: "Do you agree that where there is no suitable route for the seaward side of a golf course, the route should pass through the golf course?". The answer that the EGU gave to this highly conditional question was yes, provided that the route could be planned in consultation with the golf club managers. It was left with the impression, though, that this legislation would not greatly affect golf courses. There are 147 golf courses that abut coastal areas within their bounds, so there is a considerable involvement of businesses. The EGU, like others, received notice of this current measure on 20 January, yet here we are on 8 February actually considering the matter. I am not yet sure whether the consultation that was put out and ended in December contained the text of the measure that we are looking at today.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page