22 July 2008
Draft Marine Bill: Coastal Access ProvisionsReport published
MORE SAFEGUARDS NEEDED FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY COASTAL ROUTE AROUND ENGLAND, SAYS COMMITTEE
The Government needs to provide further safeguards to coastal landowners, businesses and farmers before it legislates to create a long distance route around the English coast, according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
In a report published today (July 22), the Draft Marine Bill: Coastal Access Provisions, the Committee says the Government should give landowners and occupiers the right to have an independent, third-party appeal process and to give Natural Englandthe Government agency which will be responsible for drawing up the proposals for access to the coastthe power to offer compensation to owners and occupiers who can demonstrate financial loss as a result of the proposals. However, the Committee agrees with the Government that parks and gardens should be exempted from the proposals.
The Committee was examining the draft coastal access proposals, which the Government intends to introduce as part of its forthcoming Marine Bill. The Government wants to improve coastal access because currently 30% of the coast has no known legal or other recognised access at all. The Committee recognises the economic, health and social benefits from more people enjoying and visiting the coast, but did not believe the proposals in their current draft form struck a fair balance between the rights of the public and those of private landowners.
The Committee describes the lack of a formal appeal process as a "fundamental weakness" of the Draft Bill, and said it may sometimes prove impossible to align a route along the coast without causing financial loss to an owner or occupier.
Natural England told the Committee it would like the flexibility to include parks and gardens as part of the coastal route, which provoked criticism from landowner organisations. The Committee does not believe it publicly acceptable to include parks and gardens in the proposals, although it notes Natural England may attempt to negotiate voluntary access agreements with landowners of parks and gardens if this produced the most appropriate alignment of the trail.
The MPs are still to be convinced that £50 million was enough to create access land all around England. If Natural England has got its sums wrong, they say, either the trail will not be completed or some other area of Natural England's work would have to be abandoned or delayed.
Other recommendations include:
- The Government should clarify responsibility for long-term maintenance before the Bill is introduced.
- Where local geography and environmental circumstances allow, the opportunity should be taken to improve access for other users such as horse riders and cyclists.
Committee Chairman the Rt Hon Michael Jack said:
"The Government must look again at the question of appeals and compensation if this bill is to command widespread landowners' confidence. Without these facilities there will be scepticism about the 'leave it all to Natural England' approach currently at the heart of the bill. Long term success of the coastal pathway will not be realised unless the Government also reviews the resources available for the measure, especially when it comes to the question of who will pay for the maintenance of the pathway."
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