A pressure group says Cornwall’s grading of footpaths is unacceptable.

Despite having a legal obligation to keep footpaths clear, the county council’s new draft access strategy says some paths are ‘not needed for public use’.

The Open Spaces Society (OSS), which campaigns for the maintenance of commons and rights of way, fears this designation will lead to the authority turning a blind eye to problems on those paths.

Other rights-of-way will be given gold, silver or bronze status. The OSS says only paths classed as gold are likely to get proper attention.

General Secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “The council has a legal duty to ensure that all public paths are open and usable. Paths are highways, just like any road.  We would not countenance a blockage on the A30 or A39 roads, so why should we put up with blocked public paths?’

“We therefore deplore the council’s path categorisation of gold, silver and bronze.  

“All paths are of value, but the danger is that only those listed as gold, and perhaps ‘silver’, will get any attention. The bronze ones are likely to be ignored completely because of the council’s limited resources.”

The OSS also says the council intends downgrading problem paths to lower status to avoid having to deal with them.

Ms Ashbrook continued: “Instead of putting paths into categories, the council should prioritise the problems. For instance, seasonal problems such as ploughing and cropping must be dealt with swiftly, as should problems which make a path dangerous.

“The council must surely appreciate the immense value of public paths to tourism, and therefore the income they bring to a region which depends on its visitors having a good time. A blocked path can deter someone from returning to the area, and so the county loses out.”

The society is calling on Cornwall County Council to abandon the grading system and make sure all paths and bridleways are maintained properly. It also suggests finding new links to ‘dead-end’ paths.

Ms Ashbrook said: “The council should see paths as an immense opportunity and benefit to the area, and not be neglecting them or trying to get rid of them."