Fallout over Yorkshire’s crumbling coastline

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Fears have been raised that the Yorkshire leg of a £5m national coastal path could be washed into the sea. Neil Hudson reports on the pros and cons of the ambitious plan

PLANS to create a coastal path around the whole of England have come under fire over fears that part of the Yorkshire leg could be destroyed as a result of the erosion of cliffs by the sea.

Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England, is spending £5m over the next 18 months to create the network which it says will create jobs and boost tourism and have a positive effect on local economies.

However, some believe that the section of path which runs past Spurn Point, one of the most eroded coastlines in Europe, could end up in the sea within just a few years.

The concerns were the subject of an investigation by the BBC’s Inside Out team on Monday, which aired on Monday. Natural England has been given five years to find a way to join popular walking spots, like the one at Bempton, to the rest of the coast, and it has to be ready by 2020.

Dorothy Fairburn, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association in Yorkshire, said she had grave concerns over the project, dubbing it “a waste of money.”

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, she said: “We think it’s effectively a waste of taxpayer’s money. Ninety per cent of the coastline is accessible already and the bits that aren’t, it’s usually for a good reason, either they are dangerous, it’s military land or farmland. Having people walking across that is not something we encourage. We cannot understand why the Government is being so dogmatic about this. Most farmers will agree to some form of public access but to say they have to do it is impractical.”

She continued: “Natural England know we are against this waste of money. If they want to spend money, we suggest they spend it on amenities for holidaymakers, like for example more toilets or shops rather that a path which we feel will not really be used by that many more people than already use the existing paths. Farmers could end up losing productive land. Frankly, landowners feel let down.

“The money earmarked for the coastal path rollout – given what it will achieve and the potential negative impacts on rural businesses – could be better spent elsewhere. Coastal access is unnecessary – it replicates existing access, it’s expensive – a further £40m is predicted to complete the programme by 2020 and it’s unfair – it is not taking proper account of the impact on landowners and occupiers. We believe the Government should follow the model used by the Welsh Government which delivered a complete 870 mile coastal path in just five years, benefitting the public and respecting the existing uses of land.”

A spokesperson from the National Farmer’s Union, some of whose members will be affected by the new path, said it was “an awful lot of money to spend creating a path with no demonstrable need”, adding: “It’s not clear where the money to maintain this will come from.”

Natural England has hit back at the criticisms, arguing that even if the path is destroyed in the future, it will still bring economic benefits to the immediate area.

The controversial stretch of path runs past Filey, down the Holderness coast towards Spurn Point. Work has already begun on the path from Filey Brigg to Newport Bridge and Newport Bridge to North Gare and work is due to begin in 2016 on sections running from Donna Nook to Humber Bridge and Humber Bridge to Kilnsea.

Mike Elliott, from the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies at Hull University, said: “This is the fastest eroding coastline in Europe, they [Natural England] will see scenes along here they won’t see on many other coasts. The path is viable but the cost and effort of moving the path to cope with the erosion would be a constant problem for Natural England.

“The coastal erosion here at Mappleton is one to two metres a year which is the national average. But every few years we get a lot more erosion than that. And so they are probably going to have to put it back at least 50 if not 100 metres just to give them a decent amount of time between moving the path each time.”

The main problem is that it consists entirely of boulder clay, and when there’s torrential rain it becomes heavy and saturated, and then in winter time when the heavy seas, northerly gales and the swell comes in - the existing path collapses.

Some question whether the land the path is to be built upon will still be there in five year’s time.

Answering those concerns, a spokesperson from Natural England said: “The England Coast Path will be a 2,700 mile National Trail – a continuous walking route all around England’s coastline. We have just started work on the East Riding section and are in early days of discussion with landowners, to look at where the route will go, and their help and knowledge is invaluable. We will then publish proposals for the route in a few months’ time, which will provide an opportunity for representation or objections. For the first time, new legislation enables us to roll back the route where it is lost into the sea and our plans will show where roll back will be used.

“People love to visit the East Yorkshire Coastline - there are two heritage coasts and some very popular areas, but also miles of quieter walking opportunities. The coastal path should also help boost the local economy, for example the South West Coast Path is worth £400m to the regional economy. A new coastal walking route will support rural businesses who provide services for visitors and walkers here.”

They also added that where possible, the path would run along the edge of productive farmland, adding they were talking to individual owners.

Once complete, the path will mean that for the first time, people will have the right of access around all of the English coastline. According to Natural England, that includes – where appropriate – any land, other than the trail itself, which forms part of the coastal margin and which has public rights of access along the way.

The Chair of the Ramblers Association, Kate Ashbrook, said: “It is going to be a wonderful route around the country and people will be able to enjoy it. It will bring money and breathe new life into depressed coastal areas.”

Some parts of the path have already been completed. It has been calculated that the South West coast path supports around 7,000 jobs in the area. The government is putting additional funding in place over the next five years to make sure that the England Coast Path is completed by 2020.

Natural England’s website claims: “This will significantly speed up the programme of work so that people will be able to walk around and enjoy the entire coastline of England much sooner and benefits to local communities and economic opportunities that will arise will be realised more quickly.”

The Inside Out report is available on iPlayer.


The length of coastline of Great Britain plus its principal islands is about 19,491 miles. However, the length of coastline of England only is about 5,580 miles.

England has over 115,000 miles of public rights of way together with rights of public access over common land, mountains, moor, heaths and downs and the coastline.

The path is being built using legislation passed in 2000 - the Countryside and Rights of Way Act - and will include something called ‘roll back’, meaning if the coastline erodes, a new path will be built further inland to replace it.

Scientists believe erosion on the Holderness to Spurn Point coast is partly caused by ‘ords’, thin veneers of sand which move up and down the coast, affecting how waves crash.