Proposed English Coastal Path (South) Making Progress.
The English Coastal Path (South) is part of the proposal by Natural England (NE) to achieve as full a coastal path as possible along the area bordering the Solent. It is part of the coastal path project around the whole of England brought about by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
There are seven stretches along the South Coast from Highcliffe to Shoreham including the Isle of Wight, each of which is progressing at different speeds.
There are 5 stages to the process, Stage 4 being the one in which the inspector makes recommendations to the Secretary of State and on which the public, including The Solent Protection Society (SPS), can comment. Stage 1 is an information gathering stage and involves detailed ecology and land use/ownership assessments. Stage 2 involves discussion with interested parties and walking the proposed route on the ground and this is clearly taking time. Stage 3 is when proposals are finalized and published for public consultation. Stage 5 is implementation.
None of the proposed sections have yet reached implementation. Three are now going through stage 4 and are past the stage of public comment, though the detailed proposals are still available to see at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/england-coast-path-in-the-south-of-england. These are the Portsmouth to South Hayling, East Head to Shoreham and Highcliffe to Calshot pathways.
Generally the project is running behind the somewhat optimistic earlier timescales and even the revised ones are proving difficult to maintain. This is largely due to the complexity of many of the coastal margins around the Solent, with special protection areas, private parks and gardens and substantial commercial interests all needing to be worked through to try and establish a path as close to the shoreline as possible.
During 2018 the important stretch from Highcliffe to Calshot on the Western Solent fronting the New Forest and Beaulieu River was published and SPS commented in May 2018.
The full text of our comment is set out below:
The route of the proposed ECP and its associated Spreading Room has the potential to cause significant damage to several notified SSSI together with internationally important wildlife sites (SPA, SAC and Ramsar sites) on the shores of the Western Solent. Many of these potential impacts have been identified by Natural England in their Sensitive Features Appraisal. However, we do not believe Natural England have fully understood the range of impacts likely to arise from the designation of this section of the ECP. Natural England have powers (under section 26 of the CROW Act, 2000) to control or prevent public access to these ecologically sensitive wildlife sites, but we do not consider they have used these powers sufficiently to protect these sites from the damage that will result from the designation of this section of the ECP.
We note that in a number of instances a S26 Direction has been recommended for some of these sites in which our understanding is this removes the ‘spreading room’. We would strongly suggest that a S26 Direction is made for all of the protected sites where the ECP is adjacent to it, so that there is no spreading room off the path.
We are also concerned that there is an adequate barrier provided to stop the public, or dogs in particular, straying onto protected areas, while still enabling the public to enjoy the protected areas from the path.
In the case of the revision to the route at Pennington Marsh, where a S26 Direction is rightly proposed, SPS is concerned that the drainage channels, that can often become blocked, will be more likely to do so with increased foot traffic. Some strengthening of the crossing points should be considered before damage is done.
We note that large amounts of spreading room will be created as a consequence of the proposed route going inland, which could in turn have a detrimental impact on sensitive areas. We also note that in some instances S26 Directions have been proposed, however, we are of the view that the concept of spreading room is inappropriate where the path turns inland and so spreading room should automatically be excluded.
We are aware that the Beaulieu Estate has taken or has cited legal opinion on some aspects of the report and if these are upheld SPS would support them.
Finally we are of the view that it may be necessary to revisit the path route if problems arise in future so that more protection can be added. We are not sure if this is in the legislation somewhere but hope that it is. Linked to this is the need for adequate maintenance in the future, properly funded, so that the upkeep of this important national route does not fall disproportionally on certain local authorities.
We anticipate the next stretch to come forward will be Calshot to Gosport but this has been put back to Winter 2018/19 . We are awaiting Gosport to Portsmouth which is also delayed. South Hayling to East Head and the Isle of Wight are the last stretches scheduled to come forward for consultation. Whenever possible we will post updates on the SPS website. Hopefully by next year’s newsletter all the proposed stretches will have been published, though the final approvals are likely to be sometime after that.