MPs warned over coastal access plans

PLANS to create a footpath around the entire coast of England pose a threat to nature conservation and land use by a wide range of businesses, an influential group of MPs was told during a visit to north Essex.

PLANS to create a footpath around the entire coast of England pose a threat to nature conservation and land use by a wide range of businesses, an influential group of MPs was told during a visit to north Essex.

Members of the House of Commons' Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee were guided on a tour of Hamford Water, near Walton-on-the-Naze, by local and national officers of the Country Land & Business Association.

The CLA said the visit was designed to demonstrate the wide-ranging implications of the “one size fits all” solution to coastal access proposed by Natural England.

“Seventy per cent of our coast already has access,” said Nicola Currie, CLA eastern region director. “There is a very good reason why the rest is not open.”


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Through the Marine Bill, Natural England is trying to forge a footpath around the whole coastline of England and Wales, without offering compensation to landowners affected by change.

The select committee is currently hearing evidence about the draft bill from various parties, including the CLA, whose experts took committee members to a number of locations on the Essex coast to show the substantial level of public coastal access - permissive or statutory - which already exists.

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The CLA emphasised the difference between the hard coastline of regions such as the South West, dominated by rocky outcrops, and the ever-changing soft coastline of mudflats and sandbanks interspersed with estuaries which characterises the Essex and Suffolk coast.

As a result, says the CLA, the local coastline is potentially vulnerable to any increase in access, both in terms of damage to wildlife habitat and of disruption and cost for the wide variety of business and leisure activities which are located on the coast.

The MPs were shown that, on Hamford Water alone, there are factories, marinas, boat yards, campsites, commercial premises and sporting interests along the coastline as well as agricultural land and private dwellings - all of which could be damaged by public access.

“This is why it is essential there is an independent right of appeal to make sure the legitimate interests of property and business owners are balanced against the perceived public need,” CLA national access adviser Andrew Shirley told the committee:

“If there is no right of appeal, the route could be forced through the cheapest and easiest way. This would leave the landowner to pick up the cost of managing the access plus the increased costs in managing the area and making it safe for both the public and those working there.

“Landowners also face a potential loss in capital value of the property as a result of misguided implementation of legislation that is currently very flexible for Defra and Natural England, but offers no protection for the individual or business operator.”

He added: “The CLA is asking for checks and balances within the legislation to make sure coastal access is implemented in the best way for both the landowner and the user. A statutory right of appeal would be a safety net for landowners and ensure the impact of the scheme was limited.”

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