Farm leaders attack draft proposals on coastal acccess

Farm leaders have attacked a set of proposals from Natural England which will create a new right of public access to England’s coastline along a continuous access corridor.

The Country Land and Business Association said the proposals were Draconian, while the NFU warned they would lead to confrontation and controversy.

Natural England has announced that it is minded to advise the government to create a new right of access along the entire 4000 km length of England’s coast.

It also thinks there should be a working presumption against paying compensation for public access along the undeveloped coast.

The proposals are due to be considered at a Natural England board meeting on 21 February before the organisation’s final recommendation is made to government.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “We share Natural England’s aspiration of improving access to the coastline, but we firmly believe that this should be achieved by agreement rather than by imposition.
 
“These proposals, which appear to take no account at all of entirely justifiable agricultural concerns, can only generate conflict and confrontation, when what we should be cultivating is co-operation and consent.
 
 “We think that this is the wrong way to go and we will continue to make that very clear both to Natural England and the government.”

David Fursdon, president of the Country Land & Business Association, said: “The danger that there will be no compensation to landowners where their property is used for public access under these proposals seems draconian.

“In creating any new legislation provision there should be a presumption of compensation paid where a loss is shown.”

He added: “Existing access arrangements to English coastal areas already attract 70 million visitors per year but of these only 9% walk for longer than an hour or for more than 2 miles. CLA asks where is the public demand and what is the value in spending up to £50m of tax payers’ money?”

A spokesman for Natural England said they understood why organisations representing farmers and landowners argued for coastal access to be provided through purely voluntary arrangements and payment schemes.

But it said lengthy experience clearly showed that relying on land managers opting in to new access arrangements was a hit and miss affair.

“We fully agree with the NFU that there should be careful discussion with farmers and local interests about the detail of how the access should work on any particular stretch of coast – and that is exactly what we are recommending.

“By doing this, we should be able to avoid any need for complicated restriction arrangements.”

The spokesman added: “Rather than compensation, we also propose extending the use of grant aid to farmers to produce environmental improvements around the coast, for example by rolling back intensive agriculture from the clifftop.

“We think that kind of approach will be a multiple win – for the environment, for the farmers who will receive new income for taking these approaches, and for the public, through having an increasingly rich natural environment to enjoy around the coast.”