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Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

Section 301: River estuaries

750.Subsection (1) provides that this section applies where the coast is interrupted by a river.

751.Subsection (2) provides that Natural England may treat the relevant upstream waters of any river as if they were the sea. Section 309 says that “the sea”, in this Part of the Act, does not include any part of a river which is upstream of the seaward limit of the river’s estuarial waters; however this section allows Natural England to treat relevant upstream waters as if they were the sea. This is necessary because section 300 defines the English coast as being the coast of England adjacent to the sea and section 296 relates the coastal access duty to the English coast.

752.Subsection (3) defines the relevant upstream waters (which Natural England may treat as if they were the sea) as estuarial waters of the river upstream of the seaward limit of estuarial waters either (subsection (3)(a)) to the first bridge or tunnel by means of which the public may cross the river on foot (“the first public foot crossing” which is defined in subsection (8)), or (subsection (3)(b)) to some point it specifies before (downstream of) the first public foot crossing. Any decision to treat estuarial waters as if they were the sea under either subsection (3)(a) or subsection (3)(b) is subject to the general provisions about the coastal access duty set out in section 297. This is clarified in subsection (5).

753.Subsection (4) sets out certain matters to which Natural England must have regard, in addition to the matters to which it must have regard in applying subsections (2) or (3) of section 297 (general provisions about the coastal access duty). These are (a) the nature of the land, for instance whether it bears a greater resemblance to either typical coastal land or typical riverine land; (b) the topography of the shoreline for instance how indented it is and hence how awkward a journey might result from including it in the route; (c) the width of the river, which again would contribute to whether it is closer to typically coastal or to typically riverine land; (d) the recreational benefit to the public of including land; (e) the extent of potential excepted land (the presence of a large expanse of excepted land could influence the decision as to whether to include that part of the estuary in the coastal margin or not); (f) the desirability of continuing the route to a particular feature (for instance to an intersection with a footpath or road, or car park) or viewpoint, and (g) the existence of a ferry by which the public may cross the river. This list is not exhaustive. As well as having regard to the matters in section 297(2), Natural England must also comply with section 297(3).

754.Subsection (6) gives the Secretary of State powers corresponding to those given to Natural England as set out in subsections (1) to (5).

755.Subsection (7) makes it clear that the Secretary of State’s decisions under subsection (2), and compliance with the requirements set out in section 297 are independent of any decision taken by Natural England. This means that the Secretary of State may make a different decision about whether waters of a river are to be treated as part of the sea.

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