A DECISION to route a coastal path through Christchurch town centre has been questioned by MP Sir Christopher Chope.

Plans for the England Coastal Path, which were signed off by the environment secretary, see the designated route go from Mudeford up into Christchurch, across the River Stour before re-joining the coast at Hengistbury Head.

Sir Christopher said he had questioned why the route did not stick to the coastline and make use of the Mudeford Ferry, which operates between the quay and sandbank.

Formal sign off for the Kimmeridge Bay and Highcliffe section of the coastal path was given by George Eustice MP earlier this year.

Backbench MP Sir Christopher said: “It could well be that this is going to be challenged. This whole process has taken a long time.

“A coastal path should be around the coast.”

Sir Christopher questioned the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over inconsistencies with the recommendations which had been made by an independent planning inspector.

Junior minister Rebecca Pow responded: "The inspector suggested that consideration be given to a modification to make the Christchurch Harbour route a formal alternative route and the ferry service the main route, thereby alleviating the concerns of objectors. The Secretary of State gave due consideration to this option, as per the Planning Inspector’s recommendation, but decided against adopting it.

"The ferry service is seasonal and would not provide a continuous route for the England Coast Path. Moreover, the route around Christchurch Harbour will exclusively use existing paths and deliver significant recreational value.

"Where objections to the Christchurch Harbour route were submitted, the route will follow a public right of way and the land falling within the coastal margin is existing common land; therefore, there will be no material change as a result of the establishment of the England Coast Path."

Sir Christopher told the Daily Echo that the response Ms Pow's response did not give justification for not following the inspector’s suggestion.

Bournemouth Echo: Sir Christopher ChopeSir Christopher Chope

“The Mudeford ferry route is a well-established one," he said. "It is not 24/7 but it is a good service and it just seems to me what is the point in having a process which consults with an independent inspector who reaches a conclusion and then without an explanation it is just overlooked by officers in the name of Secretary of State.”

Sir Christopher said since the subject of the coastal route went out for consultation five years ago, he had submitted a private members bill, debated it in the House of Commons and made submissions.

He said he was told it was all going to be subject to an independent inspector’s view but the process that had actually taken place was unsatisfactory.

The England Coastal Path project by Natural England is opening in sections nationwide. Once complete it will allow people to travel the full circumference of the country.

A Natural England spokesperson said they hoped the Kimmeridge Bay and Highcliffe section would official be opened to the public in spring or summer next year, once ground works to improve certain parts of the route have been carried out.