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Natural England has decided that the steps to Durdle Door beach, one of the most visited parts of the Jurassic Coast, will not be rebuilt for the 2013 summer, the first time this has not been done for many years.
It's as a result of the Maritime and Coastal Access Act 2009.
Previously, the Lulworth Estate assumed responsibility for this work, but the introduction of the Act now prevents the Estate from continuing to manage and maintain coastal access at Lulworth, including access to the beaches.
This situation arises due to an amendment to the landlowners' responsibilities within the Coastal Access Act which creates a scenario where any work carried out by the landowners, could have the effect of providing an insurance company with the ability to deny cover for any accidents and invalidate public liability protection provided by the Act thus exposing the landowner to the possibility of expensive litigation.
Under the scheme, Natural England declared an annual budget of £17,000 for the maintenance of the 30km stretch of coastline between Portland and Lulworth Cove.
The Lulworth Estate had previously been spending up to £45,000 each year to manage and maintain its 6km stretch between White Nothe and Lulworth Cove.
James Weld of the Lulworth Estate said
"The consequence of the introduction of the Coastal Access Scheme at Lulworth and other places like Lulworth will be to significantly reduce the quality of access, particularly because Natural England do not have the resources, experience or ability to effectively manage popular and much visited sites such as Lulworth; sadly, within the few short months since confirmation of the Scheme at Lulworth, this has been proven to be the case.
"So while safe access to the beaches is still possible it is unlikely to be as convenient as before as I cannot see that Natural England have the resources or the willingness to continue the level of management and maintenance that the Estate has striven to provide up to now".
The Maritime & Coastal Access Act 2009 enacted a scheme, operated by Natural England, to establish a 4,500 km coastal path around England, including access to cliffs and beaches.
Discussions between the Lulworth Estate and Natural England, agreed the principle that in areas where access was already in place, particularly access of the quality and extent of that provided by the Estate, the scheme under the Act would not be introduced, particularly because the Estate provided the majority of the resources to manage and maintain coastal access at Lulworth.
The Right Honourable Hilary Benn, the then Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs announced at the Labour Party conference in 2009 that "The first stretch of the new Coastal Path around England will open at Weymouth Bay - site of the 2012 sailing competition - in time for the lighting of the Olympic flame.", despite the fact that much of this stretch of coastline already benefited from access and had done for a good many years.
Natural England also confirmed that although the Act would provide a right of public access to the beaches, they would not be providing the means for the public to get to the beaches. At Lulworth, steps had been built and maintained, largely by the Estate, often requiring rebuilding each spring.
The Act amended the public liability responsibilities by limiting the landowners' liability for pre-existing man-made structures and natural hazards; a walker would no longer be able to claim against the landowner for any injury sustained whilst benefitting from any access provided as a consequence of the Act.
As far as coastal access at Lulworth is concerned, the result of this is that maintenance work carried out by the landowner, since confirmation of the scheme by the Secretary of State, could immediately remove this limitation as not pre-existing, again exposing the landowner to public liability, an increasingly costly expense of land ownership and management in our ever more litigious society.
It is possible that any maintenance now carried out by the landowner could have the effect of providing an insurance company with the ability to deny cover for any accidents that might occur as carrying out such maintenance could invalidate the protection against liability provided by the Act.