Ramblers fear further erosion to funding for coast path
A national charity is calling on the Government to protect a cherished walking trail extending several hundred miles along the Westcountry coast.
The Ramblers have launched a new campaign backed by Torbay MP Adrian Sanders asking for a commitment from ministers to continue funding the South West Coast Path in the face of cuts.
Long stretches of the 630-mile path – running along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall – could become impassable without future investment, experts have warned.
Mr Sanders joined the walking charity on September 10 in Westminster, where it launched its The Case for Coast report highlighting the economic, social and health benefits of the path, which is supposed to extend along the whole of England's coast by 2019.
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"Ensuring we complete the coastal path is a cheap and easy way to boost local economic activity and improve the quality of life for local people," the Liberal Democrat MP said. "I am keen for the Government to make progress on this and I will be urging them to do what they can as soon as they can."
The charity says the completed path will boost economic growth by generating millions of pounds, connect people with their local environment, improve health and wellbeing and breathe new life into coastal communities.
But only one 20-mile section of the 3,000-mile path around England has opened, and the future of the majority of the path is uncertain.
Benedict Southworth, Ramblers chief executive, said: "We're concerned that government doesn't recognise the true value of the England Coast Path. Our report details all of the many benefits that a complete coast path will bring – for tourism, for health, for the economy and for the nation. It also captures the local and national enthusiasm for this project from everyone who loves spending time outdoors."
The charity is calling on the Government to make completing the path a priority and to publish a full timetable of how it intends to finish the project.
Officials say it has became harder to maintain the path in the region as the annual budget has been reduced by 30% over the past three years.
Malcolm Bell, head of tourism at VisitCornwall, has described the South West Coast Path as a "unique" and "glorious" asset and a vital part in the Westcountry's infrastructure.
Last year some 36 major cliff falls resulted in temporary closures and diversions and various sections remain closed several months after record-breaking rainfall caused the worst landslides in the South West for more than a decade.
Areas affected by the closures include Lannacombe Beach in the South Hams, where there is a two-mile diversion, and Millendreath near the Monkey Sanctuary in South East Cornwall, where there is a diversion of similar length.
Research estimates the direct spend by walkers on the South West Coast Path in 2011 was more than £350 million.