The Government will today publish draft legislation on coastal access, and the eyes of many outdoor organisations will be on Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary of State Hilary Benn to see if he keeps the Labour party’s pledge to open up the coastline.
England's coast: only 70 per cent has access
The Marine Bill covers, among other things, marine conservation and the planning process for both the seas and coast around Britain. But most importantly for outdoor groups, it should contain proposals for an access corridor around the whole of the English coast, a follow-on from the provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act, which introduced a limited right-to-roam on English and Welsh open land.
The British Mountaineering Council said it welcomed the long awaited publication of the draft bill and said it would scrutinise its contents before making a response.
A spokesman said: “The BMC believes that the Government should designate a coastal access corridor along the entire coast of England, in favour of multi-user access for informal responsible recreation. This option should also include measures to improve and conserve biodiversity along the English coast and should be dynamic, responsive and allow for adaptation as our coastline changes.
“Along with many leading recreational and conservation organisations, which together represent over four million people, the BMC has campaigned to see a permanent right of access to our coast, extending from the mean low water mark to a point inland. This corridor includes areas such as beaches, foreshore and cliffs. Within the corridor, the public should be made aware of their new rights and responsibilities.”
Landowners along the coast have reacted with alarm at the prospect of public access. 70 per cent of England’s coast has access of some kind, but this is fragmented, with obstacles preventing walkers, cyclists, horse riders and climbers enjoying the country’s coastline fully.
The hope is that the Marine Bill and any subsequent act will remedy this.
The Country Land & Business Association, which represents landowners including hundreds of coastal owners and businesses, is lobbying against what it considers the injustices it expects in the bill, mainly the lack of compensation for the grant of access rights. In Cornwall for instance, it told the Sunday Times this week, there are dozens of residences and businesses for whom the bill could, it claims, mean catastrophe.
John Mortimer, the CLA’s south-west regional director told the newspaper: “Besides the private homes that will be affected, there are hoteliers, caravan parks and letting agencies that own private beaches or market themselves as exclusive.
“If they can no longer guarantee privacy, their properties will be blighted.”
And then there are the wilder claims of coastal businessmen. Peter Behrens, who owns land in Mount’s Bay, on the south coast of Cornwall, claimed: “We’re not against access as such.
“Everyone should be allowed to go to the seaside. But this law would suburbanise the coast and turn it into an M25, with signs saying where you can and cannot go. It would homogenise our coastal idiosyncrasies and spoil the experience for everybody.”
However, as Dave Turnbull, chief executive of the BMC points out: “The British coastline is internationally renowned for rock climbing. There are more climbing routes on the cliffs of Land’s End then the whole of the eastern and western seaboards of the USA put together. The BMC hopes the Marine Bill will bring greater permanence and clarity in helping people access the coastline.”
Scotland, France, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden, already have the legal right to free access to the coast. The Welsh Assembly Government is currently working on a coastal path which would cover the whole of the nation’s shoreline.