Coastal access: vital to the nation

Posted by Tina Gardner on 31/10/2013
England's majestic margin

The BMC is urging MPs to keep pushing forward the England Coast Path and the right of walkers and climbers to access to the ‘coastal margin’ amid concerns the plans are stalling under the current government.

Update: (31 October) New environment ministers Dan Rogerson, MP for North Cornwall & minister responsible for rural affairs (including access), and George Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, have both expressed a renewed interest in coastal access but firm details of how and when better access to the complete coast of England are still to emerge.

On 10 October during a DEFRA Commons debate, Dan Rogerson stated: The key issue for us is pushing forward this project, but we have to be honest about the fact that we are in a time of restricted resources. We must therefore be efficient in working with landowners and others to streamline the process and to deliver the coastal access that everyone in the House would like to see.”

George Eustice, responsible for farming and food, marine and fisheries also stated that whilst government has not yet set a timetable for completion of the English coastal path, it is 'pressing ahead with delivering coastal access on a further 10 stretches of the English coast. We are applying the lessons that we have learnt to make sure it offers value for money.’

Update: (23 August) government announced £29m in funding for deprived coastal towns. Perhaps they are on the right path to also realising the potential benefits that investment in the England coastal path and associated margin can bring to our coastal areas.
 
The passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act in 2009 was a historic event which provides both a right to walk along the full 4,345km (2,700 miles) of England’s coastline and a permanent right of access to a coastal margin around the coast, including beaches and access to sea cliffs.
 
But the implementation of this Act has looked uncertain recently, with the environment minister Richard Benyon telling Farmers’ Weekly on 14 June that the “government had inherited some legacies that would be extremely expensive to deliver” and describing coastal access as a “sledgehammer to miss a nut”.  The government has since given the go-ahead on 18 July 2013 for new sections of the path to open early next year in County Durham and Cumbria, but announced the Isle of Wight would not be included in the scheme. The most up-to-date map showing coastal path stretches in progress is available on the Natural England website.
 
Dr Cath Flitcroft, BMC access & conservation officer said:
 
“If the government is serious about supporting the Britain on Foot campaign to get more people active outdoors then it has a fantastic opportunity to help people get active along our rich coastline by giving full commitment to the roll-out of the coastal access programme. There's such a great legacy of coast paths and coastal climbing in England, yet implementation of the coastal path and margin is lagging behind. At the moment the completion date is at risk of being washed away with the tide.
 
"The benefits of this relatively low cost project are clear: it will boost the rural economy at the same time as bringing recreational opportunities and associated health benefits. We’re urging MPs to keep pressure on government to fully support the roll-out of the England Coast Path.  We’re asking the government to confirm its financial commitment and set a clear completion date for the path and coastal margin.”
 
Why is it important?
 
The coast offers vital opportunities for public recreation, including weird and wonderful coastal walks, and is an integral part of Britain’s common heritage. According to Natural England’s coastal audit in 2008/09, only two-thirds the English coast has legally secure satisfactory paths and this is regularly interrupted by sections without public access.  It also estimated that 17% of the coast is rapidly eroding and so some public footpaths will be lost within 20 years.
 
The BMC is calling on MPs to keep pressure on the government to: 
  • Give a commitment of financial support for the coastal access programme, particularly given the relatively low cost of implementation;
  • Recognise the importance of the England Coast Path and its associated spreading room to the economic, health and well-being of all, particularly in light of Government’s support for the Britain on Foot campaign to encourage more people to be active outdoors;
  • Give some indication of a completion date.
The BMC is also encouraging its 75,000-strong membership and all coast lovers to support the Ramblers’ petition for the England Coast Path. The petition is found at the One Coast For All Campaign.
 
Coastal cash stats:
  • The public make over 70 million trips to the coast each year, spending over £1.4 billion, which helps support local businesses as well as many seaside towns.  
  • Walking’s capacity to boost local economies is demonstrated by the Wales Coast Path which has brought an estimated £16 million to the Welsh economy since it opened in May 2012.
  • More people walking, climbing and enjoying responsible recreation around our coastline could also bring vast savings to the nation’s health bill. Physical inactivity currently costs the NHS in England between £1 billion and £1.8 billion a year. Costs to the wider economy are conservatively estimated at £5.5 billion in sickness absence and £1 billion in premature deaths – a total of £8.3 billion.

This article is part of BMC on Foot, a push to raise awareness of the BMC’s work for hill walkers and its stance on a range of topical issues affecting hill walkers. Please help us by completing our hill walking survey

Want to get into hill walking? The BMC has teamed up with excellent Plas y Brenin centre in Snowdonia to offer a series of Head for the Hills starter courses. A great way to get the skills you need to be confident in the mountains, you get a discount of up to 50% with free transport from Llandudno Railway Station. For more information see here.



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