BMC welcomes draft Marine Bill

Posted by Cath Flitcroft on 03/04/2008
Bouldering at St. Bees. Photo; BMC

The BMC welcomes the publication of the long awaited draft Marine Bill which has included several clauses on improving access to the English coast.

The Marine Bill will introduce a new framework for the seas, based on marine spatial planning that balances conservation, energy and resource needs. In particular, it outlines improved nature conservation through the creation of Marine Conservation Zones, an improved marine licensing regime and improved fisheries management. The draft Bill also creates a new agency, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) which will be the UK body overseeing the sustainable development of the marine area.

Importantly for the BMC, the Bill also contains provisions for extending access to the English coast. It places a duty on the Secretary of State and Natural England to secure a long distance route (the English coastal route) and a margin of land available for open-air recreation (spreading room), accessible to the public around the coast of England. It is proposed that this margin will include an area of land from the coast inland to an appropriate physical boundary – this means cliffs, beaches, rocks and dunes will be accessible for the purposes of open air recreation on foot.

A right of access to the route and associated spreading room will be provided under the CROW Act, and amended by the Marine Bill. The right of access will be subject to restrictions or exclusions for nature conservation or land management purposes but these will be different from those applicable to existing CROW access land, reflecting different conditions along the coast. The legislation will also remove occupier’s liability in respect of any natural feature, as for other CROW access land, but in addition removes occupier’s liability in respect of any non-natural feature. Where the coastline is subject to erosion, Natural England will also be able to use its discretion to specify that the route should “roll back” with erosion.

The English coastal route will be proposed by Natural England in consultation with local interests, taking into account the existing pattern of physical features and boundaries as well as the potential impacts on nature conservation and on other land uses, both for the route and for the associated spreading room.

Many leading recreational and conservation organisations who together represent over 4 million people, have been campaigning to see a permanent right of access to our coast, which should extend from the mean low water mark to a point inland, and include areas such as beaches, foreshore and cliffs. Today’s draft Bill will be a relief to many.

The publication of the Bill in draft will allow for pre-legislative Parliamentary scrutiny and ensure a full debate on the measures proposed (the BMC have until the end of June to submit any comments). The aim is to ensure that Government gets the legislation right at this early stage to ensure it can deliver the benefits outlined, and allow for the smooth passage of the Bill at the later stages of the legislative process.  For further details visit the DEFRA website.

In Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government has been working with Defra to ensure that what is being proposed is as suitable for the needs of Wales as they are for England and the UK as a whole. In general, where changes are being made or new powers are being created in England, similar changes or powers will also be made for Wales. In areas where these changes are the responsibility of Welsh Ministers, it will be for them to decide how the powers will be used.

The Welsh Assembly Government and CCW have begun work on improving access to the coast via path infrastructure improvements with the delivery of a new All Wales Coastal Path. The Assembly Government is however, interested in exploring how a legislative approach might complement and add value to the existing improvement programme in Wales. Consultation with stakeholders on the possible options for Wales is proposed as the next step. In light of that consultation, provisions for Wales would then be considered for possible inclusion in the Bill when formally introduced to Parliament.

The Coastal Access Database (CAD)
To illustrate the importance of coastal access for climbing, the BMC has plotted most of the coastal climbing sites in England and Wales onto mapping tiles in the Coastal Access Database.


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