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We have urged 51 town and parish councils in Oxfordshire to reject Oxfordshire County Council’s plan to categorise local paths according to their use. The county has written to a number of local councils encouraging them to consider this. The society advises that this could lead to less-well-used paths being relegated so that they become obstructed and overgrown.
Henley Town Council has already followed the society’s advice and rejected the county’s proposals.
The county council, the highway authority responsible for Oxfordshire’s public footpaths and bridleways, has asked the local councils to take part in a trial approach to categorising the paths, ‘to identify key routes that locals and visitors use, in order to focus efforts on higher priority issues, and to meet community needs’.
The society has advised the local councils that the county council ‘is under a statutory duty to ensure that all public rights of way are available for the public to use and enjoy at all times’. It considers that ‘if the town council accedes to the county’s request and “identifies” certain routes as “key routes”, you will be acquiescing in making some paths second-class compared to others. This in turn will make difficulties for your council. All paths are valued by someone, that is why they are there. If you categorise them, as OCC requests, users of the lower-priority paths will be justifiably aggrieved when they find that paths they enjoy are less well-maintained than others. And if paths are not maintained, they are likely to be less used—a vicious circle.’
The society goes on to say that OCC is being disingenuous in claiming this was a ‘very limited trial approach’ since it can only mean that the council intends to spend less money on public paths and wants other councils to help it by committing themselves to a prioritisation of routes.
The society recommends the councils to refuse to take part in the exercise, following the excellent example of Henley Town Council.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘We want Oxfordshire County Council to stop discriminating between public paths when it has a duty to take care of them all.’