Coastal access: Government 'must act'Professionals are urging action on the setting up of the coastal-access corridor – otherwise the process may get bogged down in legal challenges.

Coastal access: Government 'must act' 

The Institute of Public Rights of Way Management, which represents rights-of-way officers, said many thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money earmarked to improve access to Britain’s coastline and boost tourism trade could be drained by costly legal disputes, unless the Government acts now.

Natural England, the Government’s countryside body, announced a £50m plan to unlock coastal areas for walkers on 3 April and immediately sparked warnings from owners of falling property prices and problems of liability if the public was granted access to areas of England’s coast to which there are no rights to walk.

The IPROW wants more done to address misconceptions about landowners’ liabilities and their fears of falling property prices, and warns that without action, money could be wasted in unnecessary legal costs and lost business.

Its president Alan Ibbotson said: “Around a third of the English coast is off-limits to walkers – making us much worse off than many comparable European countries, including France, Portugal and Denmark.

“When you consider that 12 million visits are paid to the National Trail network each year and that Natural England research shows the 630-mile long South West Coast Path alone generates an estimated £307m a year for the regional economy, this doesn’t make economic sense.”

The institute says expensive confrontation can be avoided. Mr Ibbotson continued: “It’s clear the Government must take positive action to avoid litigation and not let fears for property issues prevail.

“Consultation and negotiation is important here: the Institute of Public Rights of Way has specialist expertise in resolving access and property issues.

“The key is not to let this great opportunity for coastal access be wasted. Our members are engaged in resolving public access issues right across the country.

“We recognise the need to work with property owners, expecting very limited liabilities for them in a similar way to those under open access land. The time is right to address this glaring gap in public access, by allowing the English people and our visitors to enjoy the benefits of walking and relaxing along the coast, in keeping with many other countries worldwide.

“By working together, I am sure that solutions can be found.”

Walkers, cyclists, horse riders, climbers and paddlers already enjoy access to the coast in Scotland, under the provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act and a Wales coastal path is in the process of being established.