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Report proposes improved public access to Cumbria’s coast

Natural England has today, Monday 26th September, published its formal proposals to improve public access along 16 miles of coast in Cumbria, around Walney Island.

If approved, this route will become part of the England Coast Path – the long distance walking route and National Trail – which is being developed around the entire English coast and which, once completed, will be one of the longest coastal routes in the world.

Natural England has been working to implement the England Coast Path in Cumbria since 2011. This is the fourth stretch of coast on which we have been working and which will provide important links to create a continuous circular route around the island. The Walney Island stretch will eventually be linked in with the whole of the England Coast Path; work is now underway to plan a route around the last part of the Cumbrian coast, between Silecroft and Silverdale. Other parts of England Coast Path in Cumbria are either already open for walkers or are being currently prepared for opening.

The proposed route circumnavigates the island, starting and finishing at Jubilee Bridge (where it will eventually connect to the rest of the England Coast Path), offering some stunning landscapes for walkers on the way. To the north, there are wonderful views of Black Combe and the Coniston Fells, to the west the Irish Sea and the massed ranks of wind turbines, to the south views across Morecambe Bay to Blackpool and to the east, Piel Channel and the adjoining Furness coastline.

Walney Island lies partially within the Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary Special Protection Areas and the Morecambe Bay Special Area of Conservation. The island hosts a variety of important habitats for wildlife as well as being popular as a walking place for local residents. The salt marshes, sand dunes and intertidal habitats support breeding birds, wintering waders and wildfowl as well as populations of important protected species such as natterjack toads. Both northern and southern tips are protected by nature reserves which help maintain the special character and feel of the island. The sense of wilderness provided by the open spaces is a stark contrast to the neighbouring industrial landscape.

Since August 2015, Natural England and Cumbria County Council officers have met landowners and many other interested parties to ‘walk the course’, consider local issues and discuss where the new route might best be aligned. Today’s report sets out our proposals and includes improvements to some of the existing access that is already provided along the coast, as well as recommending many sections of new access along the coast around Walney island. The proposals also:

identify a clear and continuous way-marked walking route along this part of the coast, bringing some sections of the existing coastal footpath closer to the sea and linking some places together for the first time;
allow the route to ‘roll back’ if the coastline erodes or slips, solving the long-standing difficulties of maintaining a continuous route along the coast;
identify a route and associated infrastructure which ensures that there will be no significant effect on the internationally important wildlife of Walney Island and
secure legal rights of public access for the first time to some of the area’s beaches.

There is now a period of eight weeks during which objections or representations may be submitted. These will be taken into account by the Secretary of State when considering whether to approve the proposals.

Anyone can make representations to Natural England about the report during the eight week period that has just begun. Owners and occupiers of affected land can make objections about the report on specified grounds, which will be considered by a Planning Inspector before the Secretary of State makes a final decision.

All representations and objections must be received by Natural England no later than 5 p.m. on Monday 21st November 2016.

Copies of the report can be viewed at Walney and Barrow-in-Furness libraries. The full report and all the forms and guidance on how to make a representation or objection within the next eight weeks are also available on Natural England’s website: www.gov.uk/government/collections/england-coast-path-walney-island

Natural England’s Area Manager Simon Humphries said; “We are delighted to be publishing these latest proposals for the England Coast Path, around Walney Island. Islands are within the scope of the new access arrangements where it’s possible to walk between them and the mainland, as is the case with Walney, via Jubilee Bridge.

Whilst Walney is already home to a good many people, and a popular place for visitors, it is also a very important place for wildlife. There are many sensitive species sharing the island with people and, as part of the development of these proposals, we have carefully considered the potential impacts of new access rights. We have worked very closely with landowners and with partners such as Cumbria Wildlife Trust so as to offer the best possible recreation opportunities whilst helping to maintain or improve the conservation value of the island.

During the work to plan these proposals we’ve spoken to and worked with many different people – we would like to thank everyone who has helped us. We would also encourage anyone with a view on coastal access to take a look at the proposals, which are available for the next eight weeks.”

Helen Wall, Barrow Borough councillor representing South Walney, chair of Barrow Borough’s Wildlife and Heritage Advisory Committee and Barrow Borough Council spokesperson for wildlife, culture and heritage, gave a flavour of what experiencing the England Coast path around Walney Island could offer: “At 10 miles long and a mile or less wide and pretty flat, with a rich variety of scenery and habitats and many amazing things to see the island is an ideal size for a good walk. I’m sure people will be attracted to walk the Walney Island stretch of the England Coast Path accompanied by possible sightings of porpoises or roe deer and of course the Walney geranium to add to the experience. There are some outstanding eating and drinking places along the way and, with luck, you could finish your adventure with one of the famous Walney sunsets.
The new coastal path will bring so many benefits to the island’s economy, people’s health and something really interesting for visitors. I can’t wait to try it.”

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