Environment minister Richard Benyon is in no hurry to deliver access around England’s coastline, but on BBC2 Newsnight, on Monday 5 August, he did at least say that there would be access ‘in time’ (though not on the Isle of Wight, see blog passim).
On Newsnight Rajesh Mirchandani interviewed Richard Benyon who said:
‘If it takes a year or two more to do than we originally planned, I still think it’s a noble ambition that we will be delivering.
‘I want to concentrate on areas where there’s the most economic benefit but I would love to be able to be playing with a different deck of cards than we inherited three years ago, and if that’s means we’ve got to take a little bit longer, then we have to—but it won’t be much longer.’
Rajesh interjects: ‘But the minister wonders if a continuous path is even the best way to spend scarce resources.’
Benyon: ‘There are a relatively small percentage of people who want to walk from Deal to Portsmouth, and if they want to do that, good, and we will have a coastal path for them to do that in time.
‘But I’m really concerned about the people who can bring maximum benefit to coastal communities and coastal businesses.’
He seems not to understand the urgent need to have the path and access land right round the coast, and that this would bring great benefit to coastal communities and businesses.
The programme compared the lack of progress in England with the Wales Coast Path, which has brought £16 million to the Welsh economy in the first year alone, and was praised as ‘unifying Wales’ by Llansteffan historian Eiluned Rees. Holidaymaker Michael from Manchester said: ‘There’s never a stale view. On every section of the path you have to stop and take it all in. It’s breathtaking.’ Rajesh couldn’t find anyone in Llansteffan, on the south Wales coast, who thought the Wales Coast Path was a bad idea: ‘they appreciate its unifying quality; it fits with the poetry of this place’.
Miserably, across the Severn in North Somerset, Rajesh came to a dead end and was prevented from walking east for three miles along the coast to Clevedon. Instead he had to toil for seven miles inland, crossing the M5 twice.
Ramblers‘ chief executive Benedict Southworth pointed out that, despite the cuts, the government is protecting those things which it thinks will bring growth. He emphasised that coastal access is ‘a massive green investment for the rural economy’.
Although Richard Benyon seemed lukewarm on Newsnight, he spoke more positively here than he did at the Royal Cornwall Show when he criticised the coastal-access programme as ‘a sledgehammer to miss a nut’. All is not lost.
We must keep up the pressure. Sign the Ramblers’ online coastal-petition now.
You can watch Newsnight here until 12 August, the feature starts at 26 minutes 50 seconds.