Natural England’s insistence on introducing a statutory right of access over land around Weymouth Bay will result in a negligent waste of money – according to the CLA, the Country Land and Business Association.
The comments follow the publication of Natural England’s document relating to the first stretch of the All-England Coastal Path: Coastal Access Weymouth Bay – which has been approved by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman – but the CLA says it recreates public access that already exists and will represent a backward step in access provision for much of the proposed area.
CLA South West Director, John Mortimer, said that approximately 4 miles of the “new” route” is owned by the The Lulworth Estate which has provided open access and recreation areas along this stretch of coastline and the beaches for nearly 100 years. The estate, he said, had also provided an exemplary management regime, conserving and caring for the coast as well as providing a ranger service to maintain and repair the paths whenever needed and to ensure the safety of the users – at no cost at all to the public purse..
“Natural England is proposing to replace a system which has provided a fantastic public benefit for hundreds of thousands of people apid for by private finance with a statutory route.. That means Natural England will assume the responsibility for maintaining and managing the access and that they will also assume responsibility for the cost of doing so – and that is an indefensible waste of public money.”
Mr Mortimer said the situation at Lulworth was a clear demonstration that the access provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Act needed to be rethought.
Lulworth, he said, had not only looked after and conserved the coast, but had championed the World Heritage Site and made sure that the many thousands of visitors who come every year had every opportunity to access and enjoy what is a spectacular part of our natural heritage.
“This whole exercise appears to be a waste of time and money and appears to us represent more of a symbolic gesture than any improvement to access to the coast. People feel frustrated and let down because the vast majority of this part of our coast has been easily accessible from a combination of the South West Coast Path with additional access provided by the local land owners.”
CLA Dorset member, James Weld, the owner of the Lulworth Estate, said: ”This is a backward step in the provision of public access in the Lulworth area. It is very clear that Natural England do not have the resources to maintain the level of access previously provided and certainly not at the standard to which it has been kept for many years by the Estate.”