After decades as a dream, the idea of a public footpath right around the English coastline looks set to become a reality - and in the relatively near future too. Given how well the fledgeling Welsh equivalent already seems to be doing, this has to be good news. Campaigners say they are 'overjoyed'.
A policy of the previous government, the England Coast Path has been growing piecemeal and at a fairly unimpressive rate, and in recent years there were fears that the Coalition government was lukewarm or even actively hostile to the project (see UKH news here). However that looks set to change with an announcement today by Deputy PM Nick Clegg. If the government can be taken at its word, all 3000 miles of the England Coast Path will be completed and open to everyone to enjoy by as soon as 2020.
Previous timetables had only outlined work on the project up to 2016, and there was no date in sight for its completion.
The announcement of greater investment and a speeded up delivery has been warmly welcomed by the Ramblers and the BMC, among others, both of whom have consistently spoken up for the path and the 'spreading room' that it needs to each side. Throughout their 80 year history the Ramblers have been vociferous in the campaign to open up our coastline for everyone to enjoy.
In 2009 campaigners helped to win the right to walk along the coast, but since then development of the England Coast Path on the ground has been slow.
Benedict Southworth, Ramblers chief executive, said:
'We’re overjoyed that the government has recognised the huge public love for our coast and the enormous benefits access to our coastline will bring.'
'Investing in the coast path is not just good news for walkers, but will help to breathe new life into our coastal towns and villages, boosting tourism and the local economy and reconnecting people with their stretch of coast, helping to promote health and wellbeing.'
'The Ramblers has been the driving force behind the campaign to open up the coast for everyone to enjoy, bringing beaches for kids to play on and cliffs for climbers to clamber up, and we’re thrilled that this dream is soon to become a reality.'
'We thank the government for bringing these benefits to the nation and look forward to walking on the completed England Coast Path.'
The benefits of improved coastal access are clear, claim the BMC. It will boost the rural economy at the same time as bringing recreational opportunities and associated health benefits, they say. The coast offers vital opportunities for public recreation, including 'weird and wonderful' coastal walks and over 10,000 climbing routes, many of which are world renowned.
According to Natural England’s coastal audit in 2008/09, only two-thirds of the English coast had legally secure satisfactory paths and these are 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 say they will remain 'vigilant' and keep a weather eye on the commitments made today. They will continue to call on MPs to keep pressure on the current government to ensure they follow through with their commitment to increase financial support for the coastal access programme, particularly they say given the relatively low cost of implementation. They also want policy makers to 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 the Government’s support for the Britain on Foot campaign.
Finally, the BMC want to ensure the Government now adheres to its own timetable.