As my noble friend pointed out at the very beginning of his speech, the new right of access was implemented for the first time on 29 June on the lovely stretch of coast between Rufus Castle on the eastern side of Portland and Lulworth Cove. There has been real enthusiasm locally for what has been achieved. It is not surprising that celebratory events have been held by the local authority and the Ramblers to mark the opening of the Weymouth route. The new coastal route will bring a number of key improvements to the existing arrangements for coastal access at Weymouth Bay. The existing south-west coast path will, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, mentioned, move closer to the sea in several places and away from a road in two places. For the first time, there will be secure statutory rights of public access to world-famous areas of beach, cliff and other coastal land on this magnificent part of the Dorset coast.

It has been a delight to listen to the local knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. He knows and loves that coast—and, indeed, owns it, in the sense that we all own, through public access, the opportunity of sharing in it. Crucially, as the noble Lord pointed out, the new coastal path will be able to roll back as the cliffs erode or slip. This will help to solve long-standing difficulties with maintaining a continuous route around the slumping cliffs between Weymouth and Lulworth Cove. The coastal route will make a huge difference, even in this area, which is served by an existing coastal national trail.

Weymouth is, of course, just the start of an opportunity that we have seized, which I want to emphasise. Natural England is progressing its proposals for the coastal route on a further five stretches of coast, totalling another 190 miles. It has recently issued draft reports with proposals for two new stretches of coast in Cumbria and at Durham, Hartlepool and Sunderland. These draft reports, which are not required by legislation, none the less demonstrate the highly consultative style in which improved coastal access is being delivered. That is a theme of the Government’s approach to their responsibilities under the Act, which will be found throughout this speech.

Next month, draft reports will also be issued by Natural England for the lead stretches of coast in Kent and Norfolk. The draft report for part of the Somerset coast will follow in spring 2013. Natural England has already started preparations, along with local authorities, on a further 190 miles of English coast, building on the existing stretches in Cumbria, Dorset, Kent, Norfolk and Hartlepool.

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Over the next five to seven years, Natural England will continue to roll out the implementation programme in a planned and sequential way, providing improved coastal access and linking to some of the existing national trail network—I can reassure my noble friend Lord Greaves on that—and to the Welsh coastal path. By 2016, for example, even if noble Lords have to walk in an anti-clockwise direction, we expect it to be possible to walk on the national trails from the start of the south-west coast path at Poole to the first Severn Bridge, and there join up with the Welsh coast path and the southern end of the Offa’s Dyke path. We congratulate the Welsh Government on what they have achieved in opening that path and we seek to emulate them.

There is no lack of government will to implement the coastal access programme. Clearly, we need to be realistic as to the speed of implementation, alongside available resources. Noble Lords would expect that. Implementation activity must be cost-effective and proportionate to local need and operationally efficient. I am not in a position to give a deadline. Indeed, when the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was taking the Bill through he was reluctant to give a deadline for this project. But we will achieve our objective to have a coastal path around the coast of England. I believe that our approach needs these requirements, as it must do at a time of scarce resources.

I want to address the concerns that some landowners, coastal businesses and residents have raised about the possible impact on coastal access. It is in our interests to ensure that coastal access proceeds sensitively with care and does not damage livelihoods or businesses. Just as importantly, it should not put at risk or damage nature conservation or heritage interests. Noble Lords have asked a number of points. My noble friend Lord Greaves asked about the cliffs. The British Mountaineering Council, of which he is an active member, has provided quite a lot of information about access to cliffs along the route, and I am sure that it will continue to do so. It is seen as a body that Natural England will consult. My noble friend also asked about the existence of a path on the Isle of Wight. We will be consulting in the next four weeks on the possibility of bringing the Isle of Wight into the scope, so there is an opportunity for it to be equally served by a path.

My noble friend asked if we would review the scheme. I can reassure him that Natural England has written today to key national stakeholders outlining its plan for the review, which will start on 5 September and last for eight weeks. It will look at the implementation that has developed at Weymouth and the stretches that are currently under protection, and it will learn the lessons that there are to be learnt. Indeed, it will be looking at the economic benefits and the issue of transport access. I am sure that because of the involvement of local authorities, transport access will be encouraged so that walkers can make the most of these situations. My noble friend also asked about the linkage with National Trails. I think that I have indicated that they are designed to be incorporated into this great facility.

In many ways consultation is a key element of the process in completing the national route. It is crucial to get the balance right between the new right of coastal access and the needs of those who live or work

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on coastal land. In the future rollout of the coastal access programme, we will take forward the lessons that we have learnt from our experience at Weymouth. Natural England will look to work even more closely with landowners and occupiers in the future rollout of the programme, recognising the significant knowledge and expertise that they have to offer.

I hope that I have been able to demonstrate the enthusiasm of the Government for this coastal path.

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We see it as a great asset and amenity for all the citizens of this country. It will improve the nation’s sense of ownership of its beautiful landscape and will provide for the well-being of the citizens of this land. In particular, as we know, the coastal route around the whole English coast is a huge challenge, and we all have to acknowledge that. We intend to show that it is achievable and I assure noble Lords that there will be no dragging of feet.

House adjourned at 5.35 pm.