Tomorrow, the Government will use possibly the most famous stretch of England’s coast to launch a massive consultation on the next step in opening up the countryside to walkers.
Environment Secretary David Miliband (pictured left) will open coastal access discussions at the White Cliffs of Dover visitor centre – and campaigners are calling on Prime Minster designate Gordon Brown to open up England’s coastline.
The Ramblers’ Association (RA) says the new Prime Minister should make coastal access his first gift to the nation when he takes over from outgoing premier Tony Blair. Labour originally made the pledge to look at opening up the country’s shores when it introduced right-to-roam legislation seven years ago.
Mr Miliband has already made it clear he supports opening coastal access. Speaking at the 75th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass in April, he told grough’s editor: “I’m here today because I want to honour the rebels with a big cause who said ‘Up with this, we will not put’ and I think that it’s important to say that we honour their memory with the way we support national parks, with the way that we implement the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act but also from the next steps that we have with respect to coastal access.”
He said, in respect of a right-to-roam along England’s shoreline, that he wanted to move with all due speed, but not with haste. Hence the launch of the public consultation. Natural England, the official body for access issues in the countryside, has already recommended a ‘corridor’ of open access around the whole length of England’s coastline. Scottish coastal areas are already open to the public under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act.
RA chairman Kate Ashbrook said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change dramatically the type of access we have to the coast. It is currently impossible to walk from one end of the coast to the other. The public finally has an opportunity to change that.
“We are an island nation yet access to the coast is poor in many places. There is no right to walk on the foreshore between mean and high tide, so even a child building a sandcastle may technically be trespassing.”
The association said 94 percent of the public agrees there should be a legal right of access to the coast. A Natural England survey found that access to England’s coast was hampered in some way for nearly half of its length.
The coastal consultation may one of Mr Miliband’s last significant acts as Environment Secretary. He is being tipped by political pundits for a higher post when Gordon Brown takes the reins on 27 June.