Coastal gardens risk losing privacy

HUNDREDS of private gardens and parks in Suffolk could be deluged by members of the public under plans to create greater freedom to the English coast, it has been warned.

Danielle Nuttall

HUNDREDS of private gardens and parks in Suffolk could be deluged by members of the public under plans to create greater freedom to the English coast, it has been warned.

Natural England is currently designing new public walking rights to open up the coastline to more people.

But the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) claims the organisation has now reneged on promises to prevent people walking across private gardens and parks - potentially denying thousands of coastal homeowners their privacy.

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Alastair Dixon, whose own home overlooks the river Deben and could be affected, said the move could wipe a substantial sum off the value of his property and leave it exposed to burglars.

The fine art consultant, who lives at Sutton, near Woodbridge, said: “A week ago they were saying private parks and gardens were not going to be affected and then I'm told this morning they want those safeguards protecting them removed. They've done an about turn in the space of a week.

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“We have a boat house that will undoubtedly be broken into at some stage.

“We live here because we are remote and that's how we want to be. We do not wish to have hoards of people walking through our garden.

“I have two neighbours who will have the same problem. The Government has said there will be no compensation. It's obviously going to devalue the property - considerably less value because of the size of the property.

Mr Dixon, 40, added: “On the other side of the river there's precious little bird life - it's all this side of the river for a reason. If you put a footpath down here, there will not be a bird to be seen.”

The property is on the estuary rather than the coast but would still be affected under the proposals, if implemented, as the coastal access will continue up the estuaries on either side to the first crossing point.

The CLA, which is opposing the plans, said up to 5,000 coastal homes where the public would gain access rights are on a map drawn up by Natural England, including hundreds in Suffolk.

This was handed over to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee at a meeting on Wednesday.

Andrew Shirley, natural access advisor for the CLA, said Natural England also wanted to remove a clause which prevented public right of way access within 20metres of a property - as well as open up private gardens.

“It means it's a free for all. If they wanted to, they could put the public access under your kitchen window,” he said.

“Essentially Natural England want as much flexibility as they can to do what they want and have as little interference as possible from anyone else.

“They want to include as much of the land as possible. There will be no appeal process and no compensation.”

Tim Isaac, assistant director of the CLA eastern region, added: “It is extraordinary that Natural England thinks this is an acceptable way to act. We find it outrageous that the right of householders to enjoy the privacy of their own coastal gardens is at threat.

“The CLA is also alarmed that Natural England has apparently drawn up a plan affecting private home owners without prior consultation.”

A spokesman for Natural England said protecting the private space close to people's homes was a fundamental principle in designing new walking rights.

“However, if the new trail around the coast could never in any circumstances cross an area of park and garden, no matter how great the distance would be between the house and the trail, that would in our view not get the balance right between the public and the private interest,” he said.

“Defra's provisional policy is that parks and gardens should always be exempt from the new walking rights. However, there are situations where the scale of the blockage created by exempting such areas would be unreasonable.

“There are already places where people have to divert inland for several miles on busy public roads. They may be denied views of the sea or any sense of following the coastline at all. There is no suggestion that the public should be given any right to roam around these areas. But there may be scope in some cases for a new path along the edge of a very extensive coastal park or garden. Aligning the route in this way would always require great care and consultation, but ruling it out completely in all circumstances might be unworkable.”

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