Environment Secretary David Miliband has signalled he will accept Natural England’s proposals to set up a right-to-roam corridor around England’s coastline.
Left: David Miliband and Kate Ashbrook of the Ramblers' Association at the celebration of the first anniversary of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in West Yorkshire
Mr Miliband, who is being touted by many in the Labour Party as a successor to Tony Blair, will have gained support among many of the party’s traditional supporters, including those in the outdoor movement who see the right-to-roam as central to the party’s manifesto commitment to opening up the countryside.
As the Ramblers’ Association (RA) and other campaigners prepare to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass, which many see as the pivotal event in the long struggle for access to Britain’s wild upland, the Environment Secretary told The Independent on Sunday that he would push through the proposals to create a corridor which would shift automatically inland if coastal erosion occurred – bypassing the mapping nightmare which made the Countryside and Rights of Way Act’s (CRoW Act) introduction so protracted.
Tony Blair himself opposed the CRoW Act, saying voluntary agreements were better than the statutory path.
Mr Miliband told the newspaper: “England's coastline is a national treasure.
“It should be the birth-right of every citizen. Many parts of the coast are already accessible but some are not. We want to create an access corridor so that people can walk the entire length of the English coast.”
Right: the English coast at Tynemouth
Amusingly, David Fursdon, president of the landowners’ pressure group the Country Land and Business Association, said: “It is an important birthright to protect the property rights of people who have purchased land at a full market price. When it is devalued by legislation they should be compensated.”
The Government has no plans to compensate landowners affected by the new law. It will issue a consultation paper next month on the best way to introduce the legislation, though Mr Miliband said he favours giving Natural England, the Government agency created last year to deal with outdoors issues, the power to create the new coastal corridor.
The whole process is expected to take ten years and cost up to £50m. Plans are already in place for a Wales coastal path and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act gave access rights to Scottish beaches three years ago. The Ramblers’ Association in Scotland says there should now be a network of paths set up to allow easier access to the coast.
Although the public in Scotland has legal access to the coast, the number of paths is very low, a consequence, according to the RA in Scotland, of the fact that protection of public footpaths that happened in England and Wales in the 1940s was not extended north of the border.
The RA in Scotland says the country has the lowest density of lowland paths of any country in western Europe. The National Farmers’ Union in Scotland is also in favour of the establishment of footpaths. It says if paths are created, walkers tend to stick to them and stay away from machinery and animals.
The introduction of a round-Britain 9,040-mile coastal footpath will face stiff opposition from some landowners and celebrities who have the financial clout to put up a fight for the protection of their privacy. Equally, golf clubs and the military will object to ramblers traipsing across their land.
Conservation groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have said they are happy as long as sensible exemptions from access protect sensitive wildlife sites.
Mr Miliband is expected to attend the Kinder Scout mass trespass anniversary in New Mills, Derbyshire on 21 April.