The consultation on the Highcliffe to Calshot stretch of the England Coast Path closes on Wednesday 9th May. We’ve been discussing the possible negative impacts of the proposed route since 2016 when it was mooted that this Consultation would happen in March 2017. We’ve shared some aspects here through presentments to the Verderers, statements to the National Park Authority, and our letter to the Access Forum. However, it’s worth putting the project into perspective, what it is and why we’re concerned. We’ll start with this overview of the bare basics.
Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 mandated the The England Coast Path (ECP). The Act’s other aims created a new Marine Management Organisation, made alterations to marine licensing and fisheries management, and provided the set up for marine conservation zones. In addition to the establishment of an English coastal walking route, it also included rights of access to land near the English coast.
So far, so benign. There are existing Coastal Routes, the South West Coast Path, Norfolk Coast Path, Wales, etc. and here the Solent Way. To a certain extent it hardly seems necessary. The key problem comes from the creation of requirement known as “Coastal Access Duty”, including not just providing the route, but also the creation of new access land called “Coastal Margin”. Coastal Margin was left undefined in the 2009 legislation, but since has come to be broadly defined as the entire seaward side of the route (with certain exceptions, and possible discretionary landward additions). That definition encourages land owners to allow the path placed as close to the coast as is practical.
This becomes problematic as our coast includes a nearly uninterrupted series of highly designated and protected habitats of international importance alongside which the route will necessarily skew inland. Sending the route inland to avoid habitat, has the simultaneous effect of designating that habitat, seaward of the route, as access land, which defeats the purpose of avoidance. Some land, such as arable, private buildings and their curtilage, are considered “Excepted Land”, and Natural England have the discretion of creating “directions to Exclude” on the basis of habitat or public safety, together these are the slim protections from Coastal Margin access.
Increased use and disturbance
Creation new non-historically based Rights of Way and joining up of existing routes, increasing their use will impact on tranquility and habitat disturbance. There is funding for path upgrades, signs and rudimentary barriers, but no funding for parking, other infrastructure, or any other mitigation measures (as a developer creating the same access would be required to provide). Some stretches, near or on small country lanes in the most remote parts of our coast would exacerbate the verge parking problem.
Signs explaining exclusions will not make up for the Ordnance Survey’s decision (with the alleged fiat of a “stakeholder group”) to show all potential Coastal Margin as Access Land, disregarding whatever Excepted Land, or Exclusions may be in place. A conservative estimate of the current proposal would have 75% of our Coastal Margin fall under these prohibitions, but the Ordnance Survey will show them as access anyway, despite their standing as providers of a definitive map.
In the current proposal Natural England have not sufficient excluded our designated habitats and have created new Rights of Way adjacent and through SSSI designated land. They have not made directions for dogs on lead aside or through habitats, or land used for livestock including back-up land vital to commoning. They have not provided maps that show the vital spatial relationships of the route to protected, vulnerable or excepted land.
The Sensitive Features Assessment for our coast is the largest of the 31 stretches published to date. At 222 pages it is twice the size of the next largest, and five times larger than the average (excluding itself). The report is fraught with inaccuracies and errors, including misquotes from some of our ecologists. Natural England have not performed a full Habitats Regulation Assessment to judge the impacts, they use a get out from their own guidance which allows them to conclude that their own mitigation proposals (signage, willow screens) are sufficient. That self determining logic was just slammed in the European Court in April (the judgement required that full HRA be performed).
The guidance creates a principle, not based in the legislation of “least restrictive option” for conflicts between Coastal Access Duty and other interests, including habitat, favouring recreation, where in a National Park, the Sandford Principle, enshrined in the legislation would indicate the opposite. The over interpretation of Coastal Access Duty, particularly the Margin, by Natural England shows no regard for the National Park Purposes or Special Qualities. It also fall far short of subsequent policies, including the Government’s flagship 25 Year Environment Plan.
The particularly large size and sensitivity of the New Forest Coast was clearly not foreseen by those framing the legislation, which is ill suited to application of its subsequent all encompassing Coastal Margin definition. Natural England have not provided adequate proposal for consultation, including poor mapping, inaccurate and incomplete Assessments. The poor decision by the Ordnance Survey to serve up protected areas as accessible is a gross misrepresentation. Taken together, and in some cases separately, this will lead to unacceptable damage to habitats. All the worse, as it should be avoidable, not intentionally planned.
We will be fleshing out many of the points made above, for those who may doubt any of our claims, or if you just want to dig deeper to see what should have been a harmless, if unnecessary project, put through the legislative and government grinder to become a fiasco, warning, some of this will illicit anger. (Links will go live as each article is posted, watch this space and/or our facebook page)
England Coast Path:
What’s At Stake : Our Coastal Habitat, how precious it is, how you might not have known that.
Consultation and Complexity : How is our stretch more difficult?
MisGuidance : Natural England’s Playbook for Coastal Access has problems. LIVE
Out of Order : One of the worst features of this was not consulted on publicly. Ever. LIVE
Margin of Error : When is something inland somehow part of the Coast?
Not A Whitewash (Magenta, Actually) : The Ordnance Survey’s Rubberstamping of a Bad Idea LIVE
Up An Estuary, Without a Paddle : No one really knows what to do about an Estuary.
Sense and Insensitivity : What happens when Sensitive Features Appraisal doesn’t live up to its title?
Do we need it? : In which we might have to argue with a Rambler (no one wants to do that).
What can I do about it? : We suggest some representations you might wish to make. LIVE