Mr Sunak, who is MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, launched The Coast to Coast – Make it National campaign with the Wainwright Society in 2016 and said he is “delighted” Natural England is taking the first steps toward giving it official status.
The Coast to Coast walk which covers 182 miles, was first published in legendary fell walker, Alfred Wainwright’s 1973 guidebook. It brings thousands of visitors to Yorkshire each year and is widely regarded as one of the most scenic and beautiful walks in the world.
Following Natural England’s announcement that it would be working with the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and Lake District national parks, North Yorkshire County Council, Cumbria County Council and the Wainwright Society to develop a feasibility study leading to a proposal for designating the footpath National Trail, Mr Sunak thanked everyone who had backed the campaign.
“Like the Coast to Coast walk itself, this journey has been a long one,” he said.
“But I am delighted that work has started on giving the route the recognition and the resources it deserves. The Coast to Coast – Make it National campaign received overwhelming support and I am grateful to the many organisations and individuals that have given their wholehearted backing to it.”
The walk passes through the upland landscapes of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors national parks and lowland countryside of the West Cumbrian Coastal Plain and Vale of Mowbray.
Twenty-six miles of the route pass along public rights of way and rural roads managed by North Yorkshire County Council and County Coun Don Mackenzie said it welcomed the “excellent opportunity” to work with Natural England, the National Parks and landowners to improve the “well-loved” long-distance walk.
“The walk is very popular with visitors from both the United Kingdom and abroad, especially from Canada, Australia and New Zealand,” said Mr Mackenzie, who is Executive Member for Access.
“Several thousand people complete the route each year, generating significant trade for businesses offering food and accommodation along the way. A number of companies also offer luggage transport services between overnight stays.
“Currently, the walk is maintained by landowners, the national parks and local authorities.
“National Trail status would unlock Government funding to establish and maintain the trail, which could include improving surfacing to make the walk as accessible as possible. It would also provide an opportunity to address long-standing issues on the route, such as the erosion of riverside paths. In short, this is an opportunity to realise environmental, social and economic benefits.”
The feasibility work will be taking place this year with a view to Natural England presenting a formal proposal to Government early in Spring 2022.
Nick Cotton, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority member champion for recreation management, said the designation of the Coast to Coast as a National Trail is a key objective in the Authority’s National Park Management Plan.
“We’re delighted that this is now a big step forward to making it a reality,” he said.
“There’s a lot of work to do between now and next spring working with landowners and local communities as well as our neighbouring National Parks and Local Authorities, and of course Natural England who have the statutory responsibility for National Trails”.
Fifteen other long-distance routes in England and Wales are designated National Trails and receive public funding for path maintenance, signposting and promotion.
Mr Sunak said the designation would help develop further the walk’s appeal and boost the economy of a vast swathe of northern England the route passes through.
“The Coast to Coast route is an important contributor to the visitor economy in North Yorkshire and Cumbria attracting walking enthusiasts from all over the UK, Europe and the rest of the world who use our hotels, B&Bs, pubs, campsites and shops.
“National Trail status will bring even more benefits in term of sustainable tourism growth. More Coast-to-Coasters means more tourism but without the traffic that visitors can generate.”
The campaign was supported by the Wainwright Society, custodians of the late fellwalker’s legacy, and endorsed by Wainwright enthusiasts which include broadcaster Julia Bradbury and former presenter of the BBC’s Countryfile, Eric Robson,now chair of the Wainwright Society.
“The designation of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk as a National Trail has long been one of the society’s ambitions,” Mr Robson said.
“The walk is one of the country’s most popular long-distance routes, and helps support businesses and jobs from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay, including in some of the north’s most sparsely populated rural communities.
“We very much welcome the news that Defra has invited Natural England to submit a business case for establishing the Coast to Coast Walk as a National Trail. This is just the start, of course, of what will inevitably be a long and detailed process over the months and years ahead to bring the project to successful fruition.
“But this is a very exciting and important first step and we look forward to working with partners along the route to establish the walk as one of the UK’s great National Trails.
“As Alfred Wainwright said of the walk he devised: ‘Surely there cannot be a finer itinerary for a long-distance walk!’”