The UK Government minister who opened the first stretch of the England Coast Path only last year has now raised doubts about the future of the trail.
The project, initiated by the previous government, to give all people access to their nation's coastline and create a continuous path around England's shore may fall foul of the government axe, the Ramblers are suggesting, in budget cuts to be announced on Wednesday 26 June. But cutting it would be a false economy, they claim, since its tiny cost would be hugely outweighed by the potential economic benefits.
The first stretch of the popular path was opened a year or so ago by Minister Richard Benyon MP, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries. But now the same chap seems to have had second thoughts, and has been quoted speaking out against the path.
According to Farmer's Weekly on 14 June:
'Government spending cuts mean that plans to extend coastal access could be abandoned, according to environment minister, Richard Benyon. Speaking at the Royal Cornwall Show last week, Mr Benyon said the government had inherited some legacies that would be extremely expensive to deliver – and any that were not of a high priority were "up for grabs". "The Coastal Access Bill was a sledge-hammer to miss a nut," he said.'
The planned England Coast Path was a win for walkers, say the Ramblers, but also for struggling coastal towns. The recently opened Wales Coast Path was walked by 2.8 million people last year, bringing in an additional £16 million to the Welsh economy, boosting growth, creating jobs and putting Wales on the map as a major tourist destination, they say. The England Coast Path has the potential to bring similar benefits - and for very little cost.
The planned expenditure on the path for 2012-15 is just £239,000. While tough talking on access for the benefit of a farming audience might be expected from a Tory minister, is this really the sort of 'extremely expensive' legacy that Benyon has in mind for the chop?
According to the Ramblers, the project is vital for rejuvenating coastal communities as well as improving the health and wellbeing of the nation. People in Wales and Scotland already have access to their coast, and England is now lagging behind.
The Ramblers is calling on government to support the path.
Benedict Southworth, Ramblers chief executive, said:
'Axing the path would be a false economy; the cost of investing in the project is tiny compared to the economic boost it can bring to our ailing seaside villages and towns.'
'Now more than ever we need the path to help rejuvenate our coastal communities and to encourage people to live healthier lives.'
'Mr Benyon needs to show that the government has a continued commitment to see this exciting project through and open up the coast for all.'