Properly maintained paths help attract walkers and other visitors, the OSS said

Properly maintained paths help attract walkers and other visitors, the OSS said

Britain’s oldest national conservation body has accused a council of shooting itself in the foot by cutting back on paths budget.

The Open Spaces Society said Derbyshire County Council’s plans to reduce rights of way staff will significantly increase the time it takes to deal with problems.

It made its comments in a questionnaire on the council’s plans to ease its performance on its statutory duties.

Kate Ashbrook, the society’s general secretary, said: “The county council has a legal duty to keep paths clear of obstruction and crops, and to ensure they are signposted and waymarked.

“We have strongly opposed the council’s proposal to lengthen the time taken to deal with obstructions, encroachments, drainage, ploughing and cropping, and to mend structures such as stiles and gates which are in disrepair.

“Currently the council aims to deal with these problems within 14 weeks, which is already too long. In future, it says it will take up to 26 weeks.

“This is unacceptable. 26 weeks on, it will be too late for the council to take enforcement action against illegal ploughing and cropping because the situation will have changed. Meanwhile the public may have been unable to exercise its rights to use a path for a whole six months.

“Public paths are highways just like any road. We would not accept an illegal obstruction on the A50, the A38 or the A6. The same laws apply to public footpaths and bridleways.

“A structure in disrepair can lead to severe injury; the council cannot just leave a broken stile or gate unattended for six months.”

The council said: “We’re facing budget pressures like never before and need to cut £157m by 2018.

“Reductions in Government grants, inflation and greater demands on areas of our budget for adult social care and vulnerable children mean we must rethink the way we deliver our services. It means some services will remain, some will be run differently but some will have to stop.

“Our cabinet considered a report at a meeting on 7 July 2015 which identified that the countryside service was required to make a saving of £1m, as part of the overall savings we need to make. A proportion of this amount needs to be found from the rights of way budget.

“The rights of way budget pays for a small team of people who manage the rights of way network – the footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic across the county.

“We think that we can save the money we need to on the rights of way budget by revising targets set out in the rights of way charter and we are proposing staff reductions as a result. If this is approved we would expect to save around £163,000, which represents approximately 33 per cent of the budget.”

Derbyshire County Council is also proposing to lengthen the target time for path waymarking and surface inspections to 36 weeks.

Ms Ashbrook said: “In answer to the question ‘Do you have any other suggestions on how the county council can continue to keep rights of way open?’ we have said that it should give higher priority in the budget to rights of way, taking account of the fact that they bring income to the county, from visitors wishing to walk, ride and cycle here, and that they reduce the cost on the health service by keeping people fit.”

Barry Thomas, the Open Spaces Society’s local correspondent for South Derbyshire District, said: “Over the past 10 years there has been a steady improvement in the rights of way in Derbyshire that must not be allowed to slip away.

“If we are not able to call on a properly-staffed and resourced rights-of-way team, we shall all find it harder to raise the profile of walking as a route to better health and a means of enjoying the countryside. We have found the rights-of-way team invaluable when solving problems with landowners.”

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