Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Coastal access could be beating a path to your door

Landowners are being urged to prepare for the arrival of the English Coast Path (ECP).

As part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, Natural England and the Secretary of State are obliged to use their powers to secure a route around the whole of the English coast to allow clear and consistent public rights of access for open-air recreation on foot. A second objective is to secure an associated margin of land for the public to enjoy, known as “spreading room”.

The Path itself will not be a physical path, but rather an “approved route” which will make use of existing pathways and access points, but will also seek to create new rights of way over private land.

Natural England (NE) has broken down the route into sections, with a different team working on each part of the route. There is a defined five stage process for deciding on the route and formally adopting it. The stages are as follows:

1: Prepare – NE staff will decide the optimum route for the path and work with the main national and local organisations to identify current issues. They will undertake familiarisation visits to identify sensitive sites and build up a picture of the pattern of land ownership.

2: Develop – Contact will be made with the owners of land by a letter explaining the initial choice of route and inviting them to walk the land with NE staff.

3: Propose – a coastal access report will be prepared for the Secretary of State, outlining NE proposals for the line of the path and associated margins / spreading room. NE will also announce a period during which representations may be made and owners and occupiers of affected properties may submit objections.

4: Determine – the Secretary of State will decide whether to approve the proposals and will appoint an inspector from the Planning Inspectorate to investigate and advise on any objections. The Secretary of State can

approve the report, with or without modifications or reject it. 

5: Open – once approval is received, preparations are made on the ground and the necessary legal paperwork is completed. The new public rights come into force and works are undertaken. 

There are several key points which landowners will need to consider.

Most importantly is the concept of coastal margin or “spreading room”. In principle this specifies that where the path does not run along the coastline, any and all land between the path and the coastline will be designated as “spreading room”. This effectively means that it will be considered open access for the public to enjoy as they see fit, but this does not include camping or caravanning. There are several classes of exemption to this rule, most notably for arable land and domestic gardens, but not for pasture or amenity. This makes it imperative for landowners to prevent temporary pasture from becoming permanent under the five year rule.

There will be temporary exemptions for fields containing calving cattle or bulls, but in principle the arrival of the ECP will mean that members of the public can enter non-exempted land for the purposes of enjoyment, either in conjunction with access to the coast or otherwise. In some cases, new access routes will be created and some land may be taken for these purposes. This will not be a compulsory purchase, but rather a process of negotiation with the landowner, and no compensation will be paid. In such cases, creation, maintenance and liability for the path and its use will be met by NE and not the landowner.

Where the coast is subject to erosion, there is a new principle of “roll-back” - this means that should the path become unusable due to erosion, the path will move with the coastline, to the next most appropriate route, taking into account natural or man-made features such as housing.

Further details can be found by clicking here.

Tim Jones

Tim JonesFRICS

Partner - Head of Rural Division

Tim is head of the firm's Rural Division and of the Cambridge office, although he spends a considerable amount of time in London.  He has over 20 years experience in advising institutional and pri...

Read more

01223 346609