Northern/Central EnglandSpeeches

Rishi Sunak – 2017 Speech on a Coast to Coast National Trail Walk

The speech made by Rishi Sunak, the Conservative MP for Richmond, in the House of Commons on 7 March 2017.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for informing us of that wonderful link between the ironstone mines in his constituency and Big Ben. I did not know about that museum, and I would be delighted to visit it with him. I agree wholeheartedly that promoting the walk would have many knock-on benefits and bring people to our areas to enjoy all the things that we know about and take for granted, and which we would like to open up to the rest of the country and the world. I hope that will be the case.

VisitEngland estimates that those who go on walking holidays spend about £2 billion annually. For businesses in our constituencies, that makes the iconic status of the Coast to Coast a vital source of custom. During the election campaign I called into one such business—a local pub like only Yorkshire makes—in the village of Danby Wiske near Northallerton. The landlord told me just how important the walk is to the prosperity of his business. The hundreds of walkers who stop by for a well earned pork pie and a cold pint of Yorkshire bitter in the summer months are the difference between a loss and a profit for his business. He is not alone. Coast to Coast Packhorse in Kirkby Stephen is a successful local start-up that transports walkers’ luggage to their next stop. Businesses along the Coast to Coast, perhaps including the museum that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, tell the same story.

When we talk about infrastructure investment in this House, as the Government rightly do, we all have a similar image in our minds—gigantic bridges, high-speed railway and motorways—but for rural areas, infrastructure such as the Coast to Coast can be just as vital because it allows communities to capitalise effectively on their national assets. I know public money is tight, but national trail funding is an investment that would be repaid many times over, both in the long-term economic benefits it would generate and in the communities it would help to sustain—communities whose hands repair our dry stone walls, tend our forests and keep our fields green and lush. If they were to disappear because of a lack of jobs of investment, every one of us would be poorer.

Natural England is currently focused on its coastal path project, due to open in 2020—an ambitious national trail that showcases the best of our coastal areas. As that programme moves towards completion over the coming years, I urge Natural England to look closely at finally giving the Coast to Coast the recognition it deserves. For now, a feasibility study would reflect the widespread support that the campaign has received and support the message of so many businesses from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. Officially promoting and protecting the route would do so much for their prosperity.

The Coast to Coast route is part of the legacy of a unique man whose contribution to the natural world is unparalleled. Across mountains and fells, wandering through valleys and villages, it is an inspirational crossing of the north of England. In the words of Alf Wainwright himself:

“Surely there cannot be a finer itinerary for a long-distance walk!”

I hope the Minister will consider the case that the “Make it National” campaign has put forward and do all he can to encourage Natural England to launch a feasibility study as soon as possible. The Coast to Coast is already a national treasure. It is time to recognise it as a national trail.