Newsnight report: Government lacks enthusiasm for coast path

Newsnight presenter Rajesh Mirchandani talks to Benedict Southworth

Newsnight presenter Rajesh Mirchandani talks to Benedict Southworth

A BBC Newsnight report on the England Coast Path aired this week has shown that the Government’s enthusiasm in a continuous path around the English coast, which it is obliged to build under current law, is waning.

Reporting from North Somerset, where it isn’t possible to walk along the coastline in places, and in Llansteffan, South Wales, now linked to the Wales Coast Path which opened a year ago, the programme presented a mixed outlook for the inspiring project to create a complete coast path around England.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon, who was interviewed in the programme, called the England Coast Path a "noble ambition" but said that the path was likely to take "a year or two" longer to implement than originally planned.

Speaking of long distance walkers wanting to make use of the coast, Richard Benyon promised "we will have a coast path for them to do that" but added the caveat "in time", revealing the lack of urgency the Government is placing on the path at a time it could most benefit ailing coastal communities.

As an island nation we are never far from the sea however Richard Benyon, who made worrying remarks that threw the England Coast Path into doubt earlier this summer, failed to highlight the benefits of the path for people interested in every day walking.

At the moment just 40% of the path is due to be complete by 2019, a decade after the Marine and Coastal Access Act committed the Government to opening up England’s coastline, and on Newsnight Richard Benyon implied that it will be pushed back even further.

The England Coast Path would cost £4.5 million to create, a relatively cheap figure for an infrastructure project as Ramblers Chief Executive Benedict Southworth explained to Newsnight presenter Rajesh Mirchandani.

The Wales Coast Path paid for itself in its first year, bringing in £16 million to the Welsh economy. The path is also "uniting Wales" as local Llansteffan historian Eiluned Rees enthused to Mirchandani and is linking previously isolated coastal villages and creating an internationally recognised path for which Wales can justly be proud.

Now it’s time for England to boast of a similar path. Spending cuts are stalling the progression of the England Coast Path, as the Newsnight report observed, but it will in fact boost coastal economies and increase tourism, giving our island nation the coast path it deserves.

You can watch the Newsnight report on the BBC iPlayer, or, if you'd like to show your support for a continuous coast path in England, find out about our One Coast For All campaign and sign the petition for an England Coast Path.