26 January 2012
A 32km stretch of the Dorset coast around Weymouth Bay today became the first section of the new England Coast Path following approval for the new route from Environment Minister, Richard Benyon.
The new route provides a continuous long-distance walking path and a margin of accessible land along it that will give walkers new rights of access around the Bay and include areas where everyone can rest, relax and admire the view. It also means that where any part of the route is affected by erosion, a replacement route can be more quickly put in place.
The stretch will open in time for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games sailing events and in recognition of these Olympic links, has been awarded an Inspire mark by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.
The approval of this first stretch of the Path follows close involvement and detailed consultation over the last two years between Natural England, Dorset County Council, local landowners, residents and other interested organisations.
Speaking in Weymouth, Poul Christensen, Chair of Natural England, said; “This first stretch of the England Coast Path will provide a legacy for everyone to enjoy new areas of Dorset’s stunning coastline. We are enormously grateful for the advice, knowledge and expertise that Dorset County Council, local landowners and local people have provided to make this happen.”
Environment Minister Richard Benyon added; “Opening up many miles of English coastline will allow millions of people to enjoy the natural environment and will help support local economies by encouraging tourism. I want to see more people walking in and accessing our countryside as I know the value such activity has for our health, for our economy and for the spiritual uplift and well-being that comes from being out and about.”
Dorset County council leader Angus Campbell said: "Dorset’s wonderful coast is one of its greatest assets. Dorset County Council has worked closely with Natural England to secure the extra benefits that the new coastal access rights will bring for residents, visitors and businesses. An improved alignment in places, coupled with the ability to roll back the path in response to erosion, will add to the recreational, economic and health benefits that the South West Coast Path already offers. We are delighted that this stretch will be established as the very first section of the England Coast Path."
Most of the route includes the existing South West Coastal Path but includes some new sections, closer to the sea. Over the coming weeks, Natural England will continue to work with landowners and Dorset County Council to put signage and further information in place before formally opening the route in late Spring.
Work is also underway in five other areas to open up stretches of the coastline in the same way as in Weymouth. Potential routes are being discussed with local landowners and businesses in Norfolk, Somerset, Kent, Cumbria and Durham and the first rounds of public consultation are expected to begin in 2012. Further details are here.