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19 June, 2007

Marginalisation

I'm not sure about this.  It'd be a nice idea to provide continuous footpaths along sections of the English coast, but if it came to a matter of routing a path through a private garden, I'd certainly support the individual's right to privacy rather than mere public, er, convenience.

I'm also concerned about the environmental/ecological impacts. Certain areas are valuable because they're undisturbed; because there is no public access. Daytrippers may like to stroll along a clifftop, but what about the peregrines nesting just below the new path? How about the rare plants being trampled?
I'd like to think I'm being unduly pessimistic, that agencies such as Natural England would take conservation into account, and walkers would understand, but I've encountered strange attitudes in some 'ramblers' who regard a right to roam as absolute, irrespective of consequences. There are places where conservation is simply incompatible with access. I hope planners have the courage to avoid compromise.

One more, overlapping concern: in order to meet public safety and accessibility legislation, would existing/new paths need to be developed? Regraded? Fenced? Tarmac'd? Steep clifftop tracks and rocky beaches aren't exactly wheelchair-friendly.
Never mind the expense, I feel that'd ruin the experience. Coasts are inherently hazardous places, with crumbling cliffs and slippery rocks, but that slight wildness is part of the attraction. It's a bit of a dilemma: is it better to permit the optimum experience, in which some can't participate, or provide access for all to a diminished experience?

Ultimately, I suppose I'm saying I would welcome increased access, but not if that reduced the British coast into a mere leisure amenity. It's too important for that.

[Update 16:08: The Guardian has addressed the same story, and increased my concern. That article mentions a footpath (which somehow conveys a sense of it being a homogenised, lowest-common-denominator, national resource) up to ten metres wide. Okay, that doesn't literally mean a 10m-wide belt of tarmac, but that's still a considerable land area to be de facto appropriated by the state.

The Environment Secretary is quoted as having said that:

"The success of the 'right to roam' on open countryside has shown that people are responsible about increased access and want to enjoy it in a mature way. That greatly encourages us to press ahead with opening up the coast."
I can't help thinking that's a flawed comparison. Almost by definition, Access Land is in unpopulated open countryside; where issues of access to private property arise, they're somewhat different.

A recent survey commissioned by the Ramblers' Association found that 94% of people wanted a legal right of access to the coast.
'I want never gets'. I'm sure I could conduct a survey to find that a majority of English people would want England to win the football World Cup, but that unsurprising discovery wouldn't convey any particularly entitlement to win. Just because people want to walk along the coast (or rather, a pressure group says they want that) doesn't mean they have an overriding right to do so. Surveys of public opinion carry no more weight than petitions. This isn't solely an issue of implementing whatever's popular with the masses (which is why vote-chasing politicians shouldn't be involved), it's at least as much a matter of protecting the coast – to be blunt, protecting it from the masses.

Incidentally:

Thousands of property owners in England and Wales will be contacted by Natural England officials to negotiate details of the corridor
That won't exactly facilitate matters. Why the **** would landowners in Wales negotiate with Natural England? Wales has its own agency, the Countryside Council for Wales.]

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