July 22, 2008

Coastal Path Could Lose Way

AMBITIOUS Government plans to open up the North East and English coastline to the public have been criticised by MPs.

The proposals are designed to give people access on foot to land around the coast with 1,400 miles of new or improved paths on the English coast.

But the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Commons Select Committee yesterday said the scheme needed more "concrete safeguards" to protect landowners, businesses and farmers before any legislation went ahead.

The committee said the lack of an independent appeals process for landowners objecting to the route was a fundamental weakness and compensation should be offered to those showing they would lose fina ncially.

And while there were benefits in more visitors to the coast, MPs said the proposals failed to strike a fair balance between the rights of the public and private landowners.

The committee also expressed concern about whether sufficient cash has been set aside - pounds 5m a year for 10 years - to create access all around England.

MPs also said some parts of the route would not be completed or other areas of the work of Natural England - the Government's conservation body developing the scheme - would be hit if the figures were wrong.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said: "The idea of coastal access is a very good thing.

"But we recognise there isn't going to be much progress if there isn't confidence in the landowner fraternity or their advisers unless it is handled with equity and clarity."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it would consider the committee's report carefully while reviewing the draft legislation

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