Whatever happened to the England Coastal Path?

Ambitious plans to create thousands of jobs by opening up the nation’s coastline to the public have been quietly shelved, MPs fear

Dunstanburgh Castle has been selected by National Trust experts as one of the top ten secret walks
Dunstanburgh Castle has been selected by National Trust experts as one of the top ten secret walks

The England Coastal Path was a bold plan to create one of the world’s longest footpaths covering Britain’s entire 2,800-mile coastline. It was due to be completed by 2019 and expected to provide a major boost to the economy - like the South West Coastal Path which generates an estimated £300m a year for the West Country and supports more than 7,500 jobs.

Under the original timetable, the path was due to be extended to Northumberland and Tyne and Wear between 2013 and 2016.

But North East MPs have now demanded answers in the House of Commons amid concerns that the Government is stalling.

England has managed to build just 20 miles of coastal path since the project was announced in 2009.

And ministers have hinted that its future is uncertain. Earlier this year, environment minister Richard Benyon said the government had inherited some policies that would be extremely expensive to deliver.

The England Coastal Path was the brainchild of former environment secretary and South Shields MP David Miliband, under the last Labour Government. In 2009 the proposal was included in the Marine and Coastal Access Act.

Today, the Government officially remains committed to the project - and ministers have approved the building of two more stretches, including 22 miles of path in Cumbria and 34 miles in Yorkshire and County Durham.

But MPs say that at the current rate of progress it is difficult to see how the Government can possibly complete the work by 2019.

Emma Lewell-Buck, Mr Miliband’s successor as MP for South Shields, said in a Commons motion: “The full England Coast Path will create real jobs and bring economic regeneration to many poor rural communities.” The motion “urges the Government to bring forward its proposals for the completion of the path without further delay”.

It has also been signed by Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campell, North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon, Gateshead MP Ian Mearns and Easington MP Grahame Morris.

Ms Lewell-Buck said: “MPs from coastal constituencies like mine know that our coastline is one of our greatest natural assets, attracting a huge number of admirers each year. Parliament and the public agree the coastal path would provide a tremendous boost to tourism and improve access.”

Mr Benyon said: “We have already helped thousands of people better enjoy our spectacular coastline, and supported local economies by encouraging tourism.That is why we are continuing the programme.”

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