England's coastline: public should have accessAn official body said today it will tell the Government there should be public access to the entire coastline of England.

England's coastline: public should have access

Natural England, the quango set up to advise on and manage the environment and recreation in the great outdoors, will recommend that a continuous corridor of access be set up along the whole of the country’s 4,000km of coast.

In a phrase more redolent of a soapbox speech than a sentence from an official report, the organisation says: “Free access to its undeveloped coastline should be the birthright of an island race.” grough says: “Hear, hear!”

The commitment to look at introducing legislation to allow coastal access was part of the Labour Government’s commitment following the introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which gave limited right-to-roam in upland and moorland areas. In Scotland, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act gave superior rights to roam and included the coastline and waterways.

The decision followed the call by nine bodies representing outdoor activities for open access to England’s coastline.

Groups representing all the major outdoor recreation pursuits lobbied Natural England for better access to the coast. The board of Natural England will meet next Wednesday to ratify the policy.

The Ramblers’ Association (RA), British Mountaineering Council (BMC), British Canoe Union, British Caving Association, Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), International Mountain Biking Association, Open Spaces Society, Equestrian Access Forum and the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR) all joined the campaign for a right to roam on England’s beaches and coastline.

RA chairman Kate Ashbrook said: “We are an island nation and the coast is a precious part of our heritage, yet access to it is patchy at best. There is no right to walk on the foreshore between mean and high tides, so even a child building a sandcastle may technically be trespassing.

“The government must grasp the opportunity to roll back the arable land so that a healthy range of flora and fauna can flourish. This will mean that England can boast of the type of access that countries like France, Scandinavia and Portugal provide for their citizens.”

Dave Turnbull, chief executive of the BMC, said: “The British coastline is internationally renowned for rock climbing.

“There are more climbing routes on the cliffs of Land's End than the whole of the eastern and western seaboards of the USA put together. What people want to know is where they can park, where they can go and how to get there.”

Much of England’s coast is out-of-bounds to the public. Richard George, CTC off-road campaigner, said: “Cycling around England’s coast should be a pleasure – but only 33 miles of coastline is open to cyclists, and half go underwater at high tide!”

Though couched in Sir Humphreyspeak, the noises emanating from Natural England, formed by amalgamating English Nature and parts of the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service last October, are promising. Sir Martin Doughty, chair of the organisation, said: “We are minded to advise the Government to provide Natural England with the powers to deliver a new right of access to the coast.

“My board will be recommended to approve proposals to create clear and well managed public access along the entire 4000km-length of England’s coast. This solution would enable us to focus our resources where they would make the maximum difference. Where existing access works well, we won’t intervene.

“We want to ensure the right balance between national momentum and local flexibility. Our solution would provide the public with continuous access along the length of the undeveloped English coast and land managers with the opportunity to be involved in designing sensible local solutions. We also want to enhance the coastal environment for both wildlife and the public. This integrated solution exemplifies why Natural England was created in the first place.”

Nothing like banging your own drum. If the board approves the proposals, they will go forward for consideration by the Government. The recommended plan does not involve having to map access areas, which caused major delay in implementing the CRoW Act and cost millions of pounds.

CCPR chairman Brigid Simmonds said: “There is constant demand for new facilities for sport and recreation but so little is done to provide them. At the stroke of pen, ministers have the ability to open up sites which have been off-limits to the public for centuries.

“By signing up to this proposal, they can improve public health, strengthen coastal economies, and safeguard the natural environment.”

And allow grough staff to build sandcastles where previously we would have been breaking the law.

If the proposals are adopted, they will need a new Act. This may be the last piece of legislation the Labour Government gets chance to pass before the next general election. Let’s hope they get their fingers out and get any laws passed before it’s too late.

Natural England says it would probably take about ten years to put the ‘access corridor’ in place and would cost between £2m and £5m. It also says very little compensation should be payable to land owners and managers.

Much of the detail of the quango’s report talks of access on foot, which suggests paddlers, cyclists and horse riders still have some lobbying to do.

You can read the full report in PDF format on Natural England’s website.