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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Coasting along
Trudi Davies
The Politics Show South East

Private, Keep Out sign
What right to roam..?

David Miliband former Secretary of State for the Environment went for a walk this week.

Not the sort of activity that would normally generate headlines you might think.

This particular walk was in Dover, it even inspired one TV station to put a helicopter up to take a look at the route.

Flushed with success of the Right to Roam legislation which was implemented in the South East in 2004, Mr Miliband set out to launch the second phase of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

The Act proposes open access to the entire British coastline.

Proposals, drawn up by Natural England, would allow everyone to walk a new 2,500-mile pathway around Britain's coast.

David Miliband was in a positive mood on Tuesday as he set off for a media stroll along the National Trust managed White Cliffs path with not a bobble hat in sight.

David Miliband
David Miliband champions the cause of the boots...

Striding out, he said: "We are an island nation. The coast is our birthright and everyone should be able to enjoy it."

Good news for ramblers

The plan to make the coast accessible is big news for the South East which has 400 miles of coastline to call its own.

In fact the Kent section is longer than any other county in England as it runs for 350 miles from Romney Marsh to Dartford.

Much of it is accessible but there are some notable exceptions.

The Ramblers Association is one of the main bodies to have championed the roaming cause and they have a 'hit list' of some of the worst areas for access across the country.

Top ten

Isle of Sheppy
Much of the Sheppy coastline is blocked to the public

Two or three places in the South East make it in to their top ten.

Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne rates a mention as it does not allow the public to cross the lock gates.

The Association say that the alternative route is far too long for walkers and "visually unattractive".

They claim it as a prime example of the problems encountered when private companies buy up the coastline and restrict access to it.

Cliffe Marshes on the Hoo Peninsular also get a mention as do a number of private beaches which dot the coastline from Brighton to Folkestone but it is the Isle of Sheppey that causes concern.

Parts are privately owned but with some public access, other areas particularly the stretch between Minster and Warden are completely blocked to the public.

Cyclists criticise access

Whilst The Ramblers Association are extremely pleased at the opening up of the final miles of the British "birthright", it will come as no great surprise to you to hear that not everyone embraces the prospect with unbridled joy.

Some pressure groups point out that the proposals only make the coast accessible to walkers.

Cyclists in particular bemoan the fact that of the 2,500 coastal miles only 60 of them are accessible to bikes - and half of them are underwater at high tide.

David Fursdon CLA
It is an important birthright to protect the property rights of people who have purchased land at a full market price
David Fursdon

Landowners lose?

The main objections though come from those with potentially the most to lose, the private landowners.

With compensation ruled out in favour of grants, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) this week declared David Milibands descriptions of "birthright" as "ideological".

David Fursdon, the President of the CLA and representing some 40,000 land owners went on:

"It is an important birthright to protect the property rights of people who have purchased land at a full market price.

When it is devalued by legislation they should be compensated."

Expensive procedure

Last time the Right to Roam legislation went through celebrity objections and demands for caveats helped to push the cost up to 69m, some 41m more than predicted.

So will some local celebrities be fighting the Government on the beaches this time?

A spokesman for Knight Frank property agents thinks they will; "anyone famous who cares about their privacy and security will be affected."

Human rights legislation is being looked at as a way to maintain privacy and sea views.

Environmental concerns

White cliffs of Dover
Who would imagine that these cliffs could be anything else other than open?

The Royal Institute of Surveyors take a more prosaic, but equally cautious view describing the ruling out of compensation as "punitive".

They also raise environmental concerns, as do the National Farmers Union and, to some degree, the RSPB.

In the end though does the prospect of being able to walk the full length of the British coast complete with a sea view mean more than the land values of a few private landowners.

Is David Miliband taking a "sledgehammer to crack a nut" as the CLA accused him of this week or is our birthright really the freedom to roam at any expense?

Paul takes a trip to the Isle of Sheppey this week to meet a landowner with concerns and a walker with a need to see the sea.

He also chats to David Miliband and David Fursdon. Oh, and that TV station I mentioned earlier?

Well that was the BBC, so there are also some very good aerial shots of the beautiful South East coastline!

Right to roam or respecting private space?

We would like to include as many of your views as possible so:

Text us on 07786 209252 or email us at politicsshowsoutheast@bbc.co.uk or via the link below.

The earlier we receive your comments the more likely we are to get them on air.

You don't have to wait until the show has started!

Also on the show

Ambulance

Hospital Emergency?

As the first of the Primary Healthcare Trusts returns the results of their consultation period we take the Politics Show Ambulance to Haywards Heath this week to see if the people of the town are in need of resuscitation.

West Sussex Primary Care Trust announced plans to downgrade two out of three hospitals this week.

These included hospitals in Worthing and Chichester as well as the South East's Princess Royal.

Three options are on the table but none of them leave the Haywards Heath Hospital in the same shape as it is now.

Obstetrics is to go under all three proposals, as is accident and emergency care.

The choice remaining is whether the PRH will continue as a Community Hospital or a General Hospital with a minor injuries unit.

Fit for future?

The PCT states in its Fit for the Future document:

"Patient safety is our top priority and we would never seek to put our patients at risk.

We are planning to provide vital services in more appropriate settings, be it in a specialist hospital, in the community or in patients' homes."

They believe that not only will these changes improve patient care, they are the way forward for the NHS in the region.

However critics argue that Fit for the Future was devised as a response to the debts facing the PCT in 2004.

Cuts made then included a reduction in nursing staff by 6%.

Something that was described at the time as "decisive and successful action... to address the financial challenges facing the NHS in Surrey and Sussex".

Proposals rejected

Protest sign
The fight is definitely on...

The campaign group Save PRH have rejected all three proposals and say that they will fight on to prevent the town's hospital from being downgraded.

Meanwhile both Nicholas Soames MP and Norman Baker MP have issued press releases deploring the proposals on the table and promising to fight.

Norman Baker describes the three options as:

"A consultation that offers three different kinds of cuts is frankly an insult to local people.

"It's like actually whether you prefer your legs or your arms to be chopped off, or both.

"The answer is that local people do not want change, and no proper clinical, economic or community case has been made for these drastic suggestions."

The current plans will now be open to a public consultation. Meanwhile four other primary care trusts - Surrey, Brighton and Hove, Hastings and Rother, and East Sussex Downs and Weald - are working on the Fit for the Future consultation.

Watch this space for more results that may affect a hospital near you.

Text us on 07786 209252 or email us at politicsshowsoutheast@bbc.co.uk or via the link below.

The earlier we receive your comments the more likely we are to get them on air. You do not have to wait until the show has started!

The South East vote

Previously we asked 'we asked whether private landowners should be compensated for opening up their land?' The results are in:

  • Yes 75.00%
  • No 25.00%

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The Politics Show South East

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