Constituents have contacted me recently regarding the England Coast Path and the related ‘England Coast Path Matters’ campaign by the Ramblers.
I believe that our coast is one of the treasures of the British countryside and I agree that the England Coast Path could bring considerable economic benefits. I believe that access to our natural heritage for walking, riding and relaxation is fundamental and can also bring important health benefits to communities. I love nothing more than the chance to enjoy a walk by the sea.
It was the previous Labour Government that legislated for the creation of the England Coast Path in the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act. This Act provides a right to walk along the full 2,700 miles of England’s coastline and a permanent right of access to the coast, including beaches and sea cliffs. The last Labour Government also introduced the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 which provides a legal right to roam and guarantees access to the countryside for ramblers in England and Wales.
During the last Parliament, concerns were widely held about the Coalition Government’s lack of progress towards completion of the England Coast Path and its commitment to maintaining funding levels. However, the first stretch (the South West Coast Path) opened at Weymouth in June 2012. Further stretches in Cumbria (Allonby to Whitehaven) and Durham (North Gare to South Bents) opened in April 2014 and a stretch in Norfolk (Weybourne to Sea Palling) opened in December 2014.
In September 2014, the Coalition Government announced its intention to complete the coastal path around England by 2020 and in December 2014, it confirmed additional funding of £44,000 would be made available in 2014-2015 and £5.26m in 2015-2016. The current Government has recently confirmed that three further stretches of the England Coast Path (Camber to Folkestone; Hopton-on-Sea to Sea Palling; and Whitehaven to Silecroft) have been approved and states that it is putting additional funding in place over the next five years to ensure the England Coast Path is completed by 2020. I welcome this commitment.
However, I understand that organisations such as the Ramblers remain concerned that the England Coast Path could be at risk from the current government’s spending cuts.
I believe that coastal communities urgently need the economic boost that the coastal path could bring and I hope that the Government will listen to the concerns that have been raised by the Ramblers and reaffirm its commitment to the England Coast Path in the Comprehensive Spending Review expected in November.
I will continue to follow this issue and press the Government to complete the England Coast Path by 2020.