Uncertainty over government plans to create a £50m coastal footpath around England will cause long-term blight, claim landowners.
Natural England, the government’s landscape agency, has been forced to scale back implementation of the plan across five pilot areas following a 5% budget cut. Any further funding will not be known until later this year.
An agency spokesman said: “It is incorrect to say that the coastal access project has been shelved; the availability of funding for a wider roll-out of coastal access schemes will become clearer following the Comprehensive Spending Review.”
The Country Land and Business Association said the funding reduction had thrown into doubt the agency’s ability to meet a 10-year timetable to create a 2500-mile route around the coast for walkers and cyclists.
CLA president William Worsley said: No one can make long-term plans on what to do with their land when the right of public access is looming. It makes business planning impossible. This is completely unacceptable.”
Spending £50m of public money on such a scheme in a time of austerity was unjustified, said Mr Worsley. “Every coastal homeowner, farmer and rural business in England will have their land blighted.”
Any reduction in the scale and scope of the project would give time for a rethink and a reassessment about whether the coastal access programme was actually necessary, Mr Worsley added.
“Our research shows that the majority of people want improved facilities, such as parking and toilets, at the coast and not a long-distance path around it.” Access was best provided on a voluntary basis, not through legislation.
Natural England said it would continue with the roll-out in the five pilot areas. Clarification was likely to be obtained this autumn about the long-term budget available for funding in these areas and elsewhere.