The BMC and the Ramblers are urging the Government to push ahead with the promised England Coast Path and the legal right for walkers and climbers to access the 'coastal margin'. They fear that the Coalition may be backtracking on the commitment made by the previous administration.
The passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act in 2009 was a historic event which provides both a right to walk along the full 4345km (2700 miles) of England's coastline and a permanent right of access to a coastal margin around the coast, including beaches and access to sea cliffs.
The coast path around England was supposed to be completed by 2019, but only one stretch has opened so far. The Government has already pushed back the date for completion of the path and groups representing walkers and climbers are worried about further delays following the recent refusal to include the Isle of Wight in the project, and some ominous statements from Environment Minister Richard Benyon.
On Saturday 27 July the Ramblers demonstrated alongside Shadow Environment Minister Barry Gardiner at Portishead in Somerset to call on the Coalition to set out a timetable for completing the England Coast Path, and opening up the coast for all.
'Our coast is one of the treasures of the British countryside but it is also an economic treasure that can bring jobs and prosperity' said Barry Gardiner.
'The [newly established] coastal path in Wales brought an additional £16 million into rural communities last year so it is frustrating to see the Government holding back the coastal path in England. We need to see that same boost to England's coastal towns and villages.'
The BMC is echoing the Ramblers' calls.
Implementation of the 2009 Act has looked uncertain recently, they say, with the environment minister Richard Benyon telling Farmers' Weekly on 14 June that the 'government had inherited some legacies that would be extremely expensive to deliver' and describing coastal access as a 'sledgehammer to miss a nut'. The government has since given the go-ahead on 18 July 2013 for new sections of the path to open early next year in County Durham and Cumbria, but it also announced the Isle of Wight would not be included in the scheme - giving with one hand but taking away with the other.
Dr Cath Flitcroft, BMC access & conservation officer said:
'If the government is serious about supporting the Britain on Foot campaign to get more people active outdoors then it has a fantastic opportunity to help people get active along our rich coastline by giving full commitment to the roll-out of the coastal access programme. There's such a great legacy of coast paths and coastal climbing in England, yet implementation of the coastal path and margin is lagging behind. At the moment the completion date is at risk of being washed away with the tide.'
'The benefits of this relatively low cost project are clear: it will boost the rural economy at the same time as bringing recreational opportunities and associated health benefits. We're urging MPs to keep pressure on government to fully support the roll-out of the England Coast Path. We're asking the government to confirm its financial commitment and set a clear completion date for the path and coastal margin.'
The coast offers vital opportunities for public recreation, say the BMC, and is an integral part of Britain's common heritage. According to Natural England's coastal audit in 2008/09, only two-thirds the English coast has legally secure satisfactory paths and this is regularly interrupted by sections without public access. It also estimated that 17% of the coast is rapidly eroding and so some public footpaths will be lost within 20 years.
The BMC is calling on MPs to keep the pressure on government to:
- Give a commitment of financial support for the coastal access programme, particularly given the relatively low cost of implementation;
- Recognise the importance of the England Coast Path and its associated spreading room to the economic, health and well-being of all, particularly in light of Government's support for the Britain on Foot campaign to encourage more people to be active outdoors;
- Give some indication of a completion date.
The BMC is also encouraging its 75,000-strong membership and all coast lovers to support the Ramblers' petition for the England Coast Path. The petition is found at the One Coast For All Campaign.