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The society is backing the Ramblers, the Exmoor Society and the Exmoor Local Access Forum in calling on Natural England (NE) to create a truly coastal path on the north Devon coast at Lee Abbey, a mile and a half west of Lynton. The Exmoor National Park Authority also wants NE to re-examine the proposed route and enter into further discussion with the landowner.
NE has consulted the public about the route for the England Coast Path and access land between Minehead and Combe Martin. The South West Coast Path National Trail currently goes inland on a road instead of following the coast around Duty Point. The objectors believe that the identification of the route of the England Coast Path provides a unique opportunity to put the path along the coast.
We have argued that walkers are severely disadvantaged by being pushed inland, without sea views, and that NE has a duty to ‘strike a fair balance’ between the interests of the public and landowners when determining the route of the England Coast Path.
NE has claimed that the land between Lee Abbey and the sea is used as park or garden and should therefore be excepted from the new coastal access rights, and that the public would have an impact on commercial activities.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘This is a bitter blow. The website for the Lee Abbey Christian Community says “We offer a warm welcome to everyone”. It’s hardly a warm welcome to the public when they are prevented from enjoying one of the best seaside walks in Devon.
‘We have urged NE to take this wonderful opportunity to make the coast path truly coastal at Lee Abbey.’
Once the route of the England Coast Path is established, there is, under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, a public right to walk on the land between the path and the sea (coastal margin). In this case, NE is proposing to restrict the access between its proposed route for the path and the sea, across Lee Abbey’s land.
Kate continues: ‘If our proposal for the coastal route is not accepted, we strongly oppose NE’s plan to restrict public access all the way to the sea. NE says the land is used for “campsite activities” but its approved Coastal Access Scheme states that “people walking through land where others are camping normally do their best to stay clear of the tents or caravans, wherever other space is available”. We see no reason why walkers at Lee Abbey would not behave in this normal manner, and we strongly oppose a blanket restriction on access.’