Sussex coast and the law

PUBLISHED: 10:29 06 January 2011 | UPDATED: 16:49 20 February 2013

Sussex coast and the law

Sussex coast and the law

The Government has made a big play over its new law extending public access to the coast but Leo Hickish says it has little point in Sussex

Nearly three years ago David Milliband announced that the Government intended to implement a public right of access to the coastline of England and Wales. With its stunning coastline, from Camber in the east via the Seven Sisters to Chichester Harbour, Sussex seemed likely to be affected, for better or worse.
What started as a consultation has become law as The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. But what else has changed?
Does this piece of legislation have any real consequences? With a roll-out period of 10 years, and a rather modest budget attached to its implementation, the coastal access project overall could be a damp squib.

What was the point?
So what motivated the Bill in the first place? Of course it had obvious headline appeal. Unfettered access to the whole coastline sounds attractive if you dont give it serious thought.
A look at the facts does leave one wondering what was the point of it all, however. By Natural Englands own audit, 84 percent of the English coast already enjoys public access. When areas of development, ports, defence land and so on are taken into account, it means only eight percent of the coast is inaccessible. In East Sussex, some 94 per cent of the coast is already accessible, and when you extract from the remainder the five per cent accounted for by the Lydd Ranges used by the military, that leaves one per cent less than half a mile in fact.
East Sussex is not unique. These figures beg the question, is the legislation really justified? Much of the inaccessible coastline elsewhere in the country comprises areas where access is restricted for wildlife conservation. The proposals to improve coastal access by means of a complete corridor around the country were misguided.
The apparent futility of this legislation hides some of its more sinister undertones. The coastal access legislation was originally mooted on the basis that private land was a public good and that the Government should assert peoples right to enjoy it. This marked a worrying shift in balance from the protection of the individual to the power of the State. Where would this end? If public rights are to trump those of the individual without compensation, even in cases such as this, where there is no demonstrable public demand for the right, then where would that leave us with new roads and airports?

Lobbying for rights
Fortunately we were successful in lobbying for a right of appeal for landowners regarding the route.
This at least means that landowners human rights will not be completely trampled on by sweeping legislation. We also managed to get parks and gardens excluded from the Bill.
I cant imagine anybody in Sussex feels they are cut off from their coast and beaches. What we really want is for the existing access to be enhanced with better signage and facilities, less expensive car parking, and improved bus or public transport services to get to coastal paths. Where there are issues to be addressed with access, they should be dealt with locally. I fear this new legislation will focus too much on the dogma of access for all, everywhere, rather than meeting actual needs.

Find out more

Leo Hickish FICS is vice- chairman of the Sussex branch of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and Partner in Charge of the Rural Asset Management Department of Batcheller Thacker. The CLA has been looking after the interests of its members, as well as promoting the positive aspects of land ownership and land management, for the past 100 years. CLA members own or manage approximately half the rural land in England and Wales.


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