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Countryside organizations have today reacted angrily to the news that West Sussex County Council has ignored pleas from the public, environmental organizations and even its own Environment Committee about public paths in the South Downs National Park. The County Council has announced it will definitely take back the maintenance of rights of way and countryside sites in the West Sussex National Park area. At a stroke, this will end eighteen years of very successful integrated path work throughout Sussex and jeopardises the goodwill of hundreds of volunteers.
This decision, made by cabinet member Councillor Deborah Urquhart, comes despite the chorus of protests which erupted following the controversial proposal on public paths in the South Downs National Park. Members of the public, South Downs volunteers, environmental organizations and the Council’s own environment committee had urged the Council to delay until a proper consultation had been done and all the facts were known.
Dave Brookshaw of the South Downs Society said: “We are very disappointed by West Sussex County Council’s decision. The fact they won’t even wait to discuss this important issue with the National Park when it is set up in a couple of months’ time does not bode well for partnership working in the future.”
Ruth Chambers of the Campaign for National Parks added: “We think the County Council is being blasé about the ease with which staff can be transferred from the South Downs Joint Committee. There is now a very real risk of losing very talented staff, who are hugely experienced, know the area like the backs of their hands, and who have built up excellent relationships with the public and landowners over many years. We deplore this decision by West Sussex County Council.”
Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society said: “At the Environment Committee meeting, Richard Perry, a senior officer at West Sussex County Council, said if the decision to take back path management was confirmed, it would not be set in stone. We call on the County Council to publish a timetable for the early review of this very bad decision.”