The Ramblers, Britain’s largest walkers’ rights organisation are pressing the government not to listen to calls from the Country Land and Business Association [CLA] to save £50 million by abandoning implementation of the Marine and Coastal Access Act.
Introduced last year as an amendment to the Right to Roam legislation of 2000, the Act began a decade long implementation process by Natural England to enable walking on the country’s entire coastal path for the first time ever. This is something the Ramblers have campaigned vigorously for since their formation 75 years ago.
But with the coalition government making massive cuts the CLA, founded as the Country Landowners Association in 1907, has labelled the pathway ‘an unnecessary waste of money’ claiming 80% of the coast is already accessible and only half of the remainder could be made so because of ports, harbours and military sites.
The statement comes as Natural England begin implementing the first stages of the Act by creating an improved route along the Lulworth to Portland stretch of the Dorset coast. This will provide greater access for thousands of spectators intending watching the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing events due to be held around the Weymouth area.
Before then, in 2011, work should begin in five other areas from Whitehaven to Allonby in Cumbria, the County of Durham, Dover to Ramsgate, Sheringham to Happisburgh Common in Norfolk and Minehead to Stert Point in Somerset.
Ian Brodie, an active member of the Ramblers since 1967, lives near Kendal. He and his wife Krysia wrote Cumbria County Council’s Cumbria Coastal Way: Morecambe Bay to Solway Firth guidebook. The route they plotted is accessible but “not ideal as sometimes it isn’t sustainable as its too far inland or tidal or involves walking over a shingle beach.” He disputes the CLA 80% figure, and so do Natural England who last year calculated that about a 1/3rd of the English coastline had no legally secure, safe path. Furthermore they estimated another 13% could be lost to erosion over the next 20 years.
Brodie therefore welcomes forcing coastal landowners to open up access saying, “Whilst many have been great, others have not. If the government listens to the CLA the local areas that will be affected include close to Morecambe around the Holker Hall Estate owned by Lord Cavendish where there are miles of coast without access to it.” Holker Estate occupies over 15,000 acres of land and controls access to the Morecambe Bay foreshore. The Cavendish family are one of Britain’s largest landowning families with 65,000 acres of land, as well as another 8,000 in the Republic of Ireland.
If the political case for access is clear then what about the economic? Tom Franklin, the Ramblers Chief Executive, said, “The South West Coast path, the best current example of a coastal path, annually generates £307 million for the regional economy - equivalent to £390,000 per mile of coastline. Axing the path might seem like an easy cut to make, but the outlay is relatively small in comparison to the benefits it can bring.”
A point driven home by a passionate Ian Brodie pointing out that £50 million “is the equivalent of one mile of motorway and the 2,500 miles of coastal pathway that will be opened up will easily save such a sum in health benefits alone. There is a unique atmosphere walking on the coast, with wonderful afternoon lighting displays, superb wildlife and an awful lot of history. I call it a necklace of pearls.”