A new coastal path has opened up to walkers in County Durham – the first step in plans to open up more of the region’s coastline.
The 55km County Durham route connects Hartlepool and Sunderland. It was officially opened on Saturday in conjunction with a 36km length from Whitehaven to Allonby in Cumbria.
Oliver Robinson, four, cut the ribbon on the new path at Seaham, alongside sisters Imogen, 13, and Harriet Coxon, nine.
It is hoped that the Natural England coastal path in the North East will be completed in the next six years.
For County Durham, the path is the latest piece in the jigsaw to reclaim its coast which began with the Turning the Tide project in 1996.
That tackled a century of tipping coal waste from coastal collieries on to the beaches and improvements to access to the shore.
A total of 18km of the County Durham shore is now designated as Heritage Coastline and other parts are cared for by the National Trust.
Andrew Best, Natural England senior coastal path adviser for the North of England, said: “The attitude of the local authorities we have worked with – Hartlepool, Durham County Council and Sunderland – has been fantastic.
“The coastal path links two important maritime centres in Hartlepool and Sunderland and will help to regenerate areas which have suffered from a loss of industry over decades.
“While this has caused economic hardship, it has allowed the area to reinvent itself as a visitor attraction. This is something to which the England coastal path can contribute by bringing in walkers and visitors.
“I think it will make a big difference to the area and will also link communities along the coast.”
The coastal path is a national trail with the same status as routes such as the Pennine Way.
There is a right of access to the sea from the path except where there are barriers such as railways, docks or housing.
Niall Benson, Durham Heritage Coast officer, says that the coastal path will at last replace a route between Seaham and Hendon which was washed away years ago.
And Jim Smyllie, Natural England’s executive director, said: “This path will provide permanent, secure and improved rights for walkers and other users to enjoy some of the most fascinating and striking coastline in England.”
But the Country Land and Business Association in the North accused Natural England of wasting taxpayers’ money in the run-up to the opening. As reported last week, the CLA claims that not only is there adequate access to the coast already provided between Allonby and Whitehaven in Cumbria and Hartlepool and Sunderland in the North East, but the Government agency has also mishandled the management of the scheme.