Coastal consultation begins

Plans to open up the coastline of Britain to walkers and ramblers have been announced today by Environment Secretary David Miliband. Launching a public consultation at the White Cliffs of Dover, he said that the Government wants people to have access to the entire coast of the UK, as he launched a public consultation into the idea.

As matters stand around a third of the British coastline is private, which forces those walking along coastal paths to make detours inland, and these proposals want to establish what the public thinks the best options are for opening this private land up to the public.

‘The success of the ‘right to roam’ on open countryside has shown that people are responsible about increased access and want to enjoy it in a mature way,’ said Mr Miliband. ‘That greatly encourages us to press ahead with opening up the coast.’

    The consultation seeks views on four options:

  • Using existing rights of way legislation to create a footpath all round the coast
  • Extending open access using the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to give access to types of land which are considered coastal – e.g. beach, dunes, cliffs, etc
  • Creating voluntary agreements with landowners using existing mechanisms such as those for agri-environment schemes
  • Introducing new legislation to allow Natural England to designate a coastal corridor providing a continuous route along which people can enjoy access to the coast

However, some stakeholders are concerned about property prices falling in areas where access is opened up, and environmental groups want to ensure that wildlife and the natural environment are not upset by increased footfall in these spots.

Damian Cleghorn RICS public policy officer said: ‘The Government need to think carefully before moving forward with this policy. A corridor of public access could have a damaging impact on sensitive environmental areas, creating ‘tourist hotspots’ which threaten the biodiversity of the coast line.

‘In order to make any new proposals a success, landowners must be involved in any discussions relating to the fixing of a route. Consideration needs to be given to better enforcement of legislation that is already in place, rather than introducing yet more legislation which may just serve to further confuse land managers and the public.’

Others also showed concerns about the plans: ‘Quite often there are very good reasons why access to certain areas of the coast is restricted such as nature conservation, safety or business and if a new right of access takes these into consideration then we will not see a vast increase in the amount of coastal access that is available ? after all 70% of the coast is already accessible,’ said David Fursdon, President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA)

‘Surely the common sense approach of creating local solutions to local access problems which provide sensible, usable access for the public is the way to go,? he added.

The consultation is due to close in September.

To have your say visit Defra’s dedicated dedicated website and email your feedback by Tuesday September 11.