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Coastal Access

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 15 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what legislation would be required to implement the Countryside Agency’s coastal access proposals; (76652)

(2) what the estimated cost is of implementing the coastal access proposals of the Countryside Agency;

(3) what areas of the country would be exempt from the Countryside Agency’s coastal access proposals;

(4) how many people were involved in the consultation by the Countryside Agency on coastal access; what the cost of the consultation is; which areas are involved in the consultation; what questions are being asked; and when he expects (a) the consultation to be completed and (b) the findings to be passed to him;

(5) what assistance his Department will provide (a) to landowners and (b) to prevent damage to the coastline if the Countryside Agency’s coastal access proposals are implemented.

In line with DEFRA’s five-year strategy we are looking at ways to improve access to the English coast. We have asked the Countryside Agency, working together with its Natural England partners, English Nature and the Rural Development Service, to undertake additional research and analysis to identify a range of options.

As part of this work, the Natural England partnership has taken forward an information- gathering exercise to collect data on a national basis to develop a comprehensive picture of the coast and existing access provision. Advice will be submitted to DEFRA at the end of July, and will serve to inform a full public consultation paper in October. The consultation will discuss the best ways to improve access to the English coast, including costs and any legislative changes needed to support their implementation. It will be supported by a partial Regulatory Impact Assessment. The results of the consultation exercise will be published.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions the Countryside Agency has had with (a) the relevant authorities in (i) Wales and (ii) Scotland, (b) local authorities, (c) non-governmental organisations and (d) non-statutory bodies on its coastal access proposals. (76654)

The Countryside Agency, along with its Natural England partners English Nature and the Rural Development Service, is represented on DEFRA’s Coastal Land Advisory Group. Meetings of the Group have provided a forum for coastal access issues to be discussed with the National Trust, Local Government Association, Ministry of Defence, Environment Agency, English Heritage, Welsh Assembly Government and the Forestry Commission.

The National Countryside Access Forum, chaired by the Countryside Agency, considered coastal access issues at its meeting on 17 May 2006. The Forum’s membership includes the British Horse Society, British Mountaineering Council, Central Council for Physical Recreation, Country Land and Business Association, Cyclists Touring Club, Local Government Association, Moorland Association, National Farmers’ Union, National Trust, Ramblers Association and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Representatives from local access forums, the Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage also attended the meeting on 17 May 2006.

In addition, the Natural England partnership held a series of stakeholder events in each of four study areas in which they have been doing detailed work on options to improve access to the English coast. At these events they sought the views and expertise of a wide range of local organisations, including the local authorities for each of the areas concerned.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions the Countryside Agency has had with those administering Crown interests on its coastal access proposals; and when they took place. (76655)

The Countryside Agency held initial discussions with the Crown Estate in 2005. My officials also met representatives from the Crown Estate on 6 December 2005.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what (a) research has been commissioned and (b) surveys have been carried out by the Countryside Agency on coastal access in the last five years. (76657)

The Countryside Agency, along with its Natural England partners English Nature and the Rural Development Service, has carried out a detailed data-gathering exercise to support a comprehensive picture of the English coast and existing access provision. This work includes in-depth investigation, testing and costing of a number of possible ways to improve access, and ways to maximise landscape, historic environment and wildlife benefits.

In 2005 the Countryside Agency carried out short studies of six different parts of the English coast to gain an understanding of different coastal environments. In January 2006 the Natural England Partnership selected four study areas in which they are exploring coastal access issues in greater depth. These areas, selected to reflect the diversity of the English coast, are the Suffolk Coast, Southern Cumbrian Coast and Morecambe Bay, County Durham and Hartlepool Coast, North Devon, Exmoor and the West Somerset Coast.

The Countryside Agency has also commissioned a study to examine how coastal access works in other European countries and what might be learnt from their experience. Further survey work is being done to assess current public knowledge about the demand for and use of coastal access, along with research into the costs of possible options to improve coastal access.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what consultations on coastal access the Department has conducted in the last five years. (76659)

The Department has not carried out any public consultations on coastal access in the last five years.