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We have slated Derbyshire County Council’s plans to cut its budget for public rights of way and reduce the staff, significantly lengthening the time it takes to deal with path problems. We say the council is shooting itself in the foot.
We have responded to the council’s questionnaire in which the council proposes severely to slacken its performance on its legal duties.
Says Barry Thomas, our local correspondent for South Derbyshire District: ‘Over the past ten 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.’
‘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. Twenty-six 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.
‘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.’
Argues Kate: ‘Rights of way are an investment—if you neglect them, Derbyshire County Council, you literally shoot yourself in the foot.’